State House Sound Bites

Capitol reporter Mary Wilson covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.

Biologist:"Evolution is not like musical chairs."

Written by Mary Wilson, Capitol Bureau Chief | Dec 9, 2013 3:53 PM
indianaat_GregTurnerPGC.jpg

Photo by Greg Turner, Pa. Game Commission website

The Indiana bat is among Pennsylvania's listed endangered species. It has been on the federal endangered species list since 1967.


A Penn State biologist is refuting a state senator’s characterization of what happens when a species is wiped out.

The topic came up during an interview with Sen. Rich Alloway (R-Adams), who was responding to a question about the importance of protecting endangered species.

"If one species goes away, another one fills in,” Alloway said. “Nature abhors a vacuum. So if you watch the evolution of species, when there’s a vacancy in some area, some animal mutates and changes to go fill that area."

Not quite, said Blair Hedges, a professor of biology at Penn State.

“While it is true that the presence or absence of a species can affect the evolution of another species--we call that competition -- it is not that simple or pervasive,” Hedges wrote in an e-mail.

“Evolution is not like musical chairs,” he continued. “The loss of species today around the world will have a cascade of negative effects we should avoid if at all possible.”

Alloway supports efforts to change the way endangered species are designated in Pennsylvania. Environmentalists and sportsmen say the move would result in fewer species being listed as endangered, and the eventual elimination of species. The legislation was the subject of two interviews on Smart Talk Friday last week

Here's a longer excerpt from Alloway's interview:

Interviewer: There are some who say that we are experiencing a massive kill-off of species that are endangered and threatened and the meager human attempts to try to protect them are not enough. Do you see the point of people who would say it will never be financially prudent to protect species, but we still have to?

Rich Alloway: Yeah, but if they say our meager human effort is not going to stop the elimination of these species – I mean, look if one species goes away, another one fills in. Nature abhors a vacuum. So if you watch the evolution of species, when there’s a vacancy in some area, some animal mutates and changes to go fill that area. That’s a part of nature.

Alloway did go on to say, “look, and I’m not a biologist.”

Published in State House Sound Bites

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