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With the destruction of man, which animals will take our place and achieve our abilities?

Humans are very unique among life on earth. As far as we know, we are the only living species that develops higher intelligence, we dress, we cook, we invent smartphones, and when we forget our password, we can not use our phones. But what happens if humans suddenly become extinct? What other animals may evolve to acquire the intelligence and skills needed to create large and complex communities such as human communities?

Martha Raiskind“With modern gene sequencing technology and our understanding of evolution, we are doing very well in making short-term predictions,” a molecular ecologist at North Carolina State University told LiveScience. For example, we can predict that if humans were to become extinct suddenly tomorrow, climate change would move many species to drought tolerant so that they could survive. Cold-tolerant species are in trouble, and polar bears and penguins are unlikely to thrive in the post-extinction millennia.

Degal Dixon, a geologist, author of the field of science and author of the theoretical book “After Man: The Future Zoology”, points to evolutionary convergence in this regard.

Convergence is an evolutionary process in which two unrelated organisms eventually develop similar traits so that they can succeed in a particular environment or fill a particular habitat. Dixon said the classic example is the shape of fish. Fish are optimized for life in the water with slippery and torpedo-like bodies (a kind of explosive projectile) and their stabilizing fins. However, dolphins have independently developed a similar body design (unlike fish, warm-blooded, air-breathing mammals are quite different in evolutionary background).

Chimpanzee

Chimpanzees are one of the most skilled tools in nature

According to a study from the University of Manchester, one of the characteristics that enables man to create and argue spatially is his skilled hands. In other words, to play the same ecological role (ie, building cities and drastically changing the environment), one must acquire the same ability to manipulate objects. In other words, they need opposite thumbs or at least the thumb equation.

Other primates such as chimpanzees (Pan troglodytesAnd Bonobos (Pan paniscus), Our closest living relatives, have opposing thumbs, which are used in nature to make tools. It is possible that if humans become extinct, these primates will replace us humans and form the planet of apes.

There is an example of this type of overlap. According to a study published in the journal Nature in 2021, our species survived longer than intelligent Neanderthals during the last ice age, 40,000 years ago. However, it will probably take hundreds of thousands or even millions of years of evolution for other copies to be able to make and use sophisticated tools. In this regard, you should know that the common ancestor between humans and chimpanzees lived about 7 million years ago.

But any catastrophe strong enough to destroy humans is likely to kill chimpanzees as well, in which case the other candidate using the tool to replace humans will be birds.

When non-flying dinosaurs became extinct 66 million years ago, mammals thrived and filled many empty ecological niches. If humans were to perish, perhaps birds, the only surviving dinosaurs, could take our place as the most intelligent land animals.

However, there is a common belief that birds are very intelligent: According to a 2020 article in the journal Science, the ingenuity of birds such as crows and hawks is even equal to that of chimpanzees. According to a popular study published in the journal Science in 2002, some birds can hook their strings using their legs and beaks. Casco or trained African gray parrot (Psittacus erithacus) Can learn more than 100 words and has the power to do simple math and understand the concept of zero.

Birds can gather in large groups, and some, such as social July (Philetairus socius) Even build common nesting sites. According to research published in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, some of these birds’ nests remain occupied for decades. However, these tree dwellings bear little resemblance to human metropolises.

Termite colonies in Africa

Long termite colonies are scattered throughout the African savannah

But there is another group of animals that are highly skilled at manipulating objects using all eight of their limbs. “Intelligence changes your behavior as a result of environmental influences,” said Jennifer Matter, a cephalopod intelligence researcher at the University of Lethbridge, Canada.

By this measure, octopuses are probably the most intelligent non-human animals on earth. According to a 2020 study published in The Biological Bulletin, they learn to distinguish between real and virtual objects and can even engineer their environment by removing unwanted algae from their hideouts and creating barriers to entry using shells. . As shown by the discovery of Octlantis (the city of octopuses) in Australian waters, they live naturally in communities.

However, octopuses will be under intense pressure to adapt to life on Earth. Vertebrates contain iron in their blood cells, which binds to oxygen very efficiently. In contrast, octopuses and their relatives have copper-based blood cells. This molecule binds to oxygen with lower efficiency. As a result, octopuses can live in oxygen-rich waters but do not have the power to live in thin air, and as their oxygen levels decrease, their metabolic efficiency decreases.

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For this reason, Matter considers it unlikely that octopuses and other cephalopods could be transported to land and replace humans as the most intelligent and influential land animals. In this context, he thinks more about social insects such as ants and termites. “I think insects are more stubborn than we are,” he says. “They are even tougher than cephalopods.”

The reason is this: Insects are incredibly adaptable to diverse environments. They have been around for about 480 million years. Insects have evolved to occupy almost every conceivable habitat; From flying to digging and swimming and even building complex city-like towers. Organizing ant and termite colonies is probably more like human civilization than any other inhuman on earth.

According to a 2017 study published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, ants grow fungi, and termites can communicate with each other using long-distance vibrations within their colonies. If humans become extinct, they may dominate the world, assuming they can survive climate change.

Of course, all this is speculation. It is virtually impossible to truly predict evolution at the geological time scale. According to Riskind, the farther you go, the less accurate you become. Because there are other amazing factors that cause diversity. These factors include accidental mutations, sudden extinction events, and population bottlenecks. Population bottlenecks are a phenomenon in which a species survives extinction but loses much of its genetic diversity.

It is even more difficult to predict whether another species will gain human-level intelligence or be inclined to build cities. Mater thinks such a thing could happen, but not without millions of years of pressure to make the right choice. However, Dixon is less optimistic. “I do not think nature will repeat this mistake,” he says.


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