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Winter Harshness and Sheep Survival

on March 24, 2007
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BBC: “Climate change shifts sheep shape”
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/6453615.stm

A multi-decade study of Scottish sheep indicates that weather patterns have an effect on “body shape and population size,” according to the BBC, who reports on this ovine study led by Imperial College London professor Tim Coulson and colleagues.

Harsh winters led to larger sheep, which brought about changes in population size, yet in milder winters this effect was not seen.

Coulson adds that climate change is, thus, leaving both an ecological and evolutionary legacy.

The study is part of an effort to show how “ecology and evolutionary change are linked,” says Coulson, who explained that the small island the sheep call home is like a “natural laboratory” due to its isolation and lack of civilization.

Coulson explains that as winters have gotten milder, the evolutionary pressure toward larger sheep has been reduced, suggesting warmer winters of the future may allow increasingly smaller sheep to dominate a more stable population. Coulson adds that climate change is, thus, leaving both an ecological and evolutionary legacy.

Indeed, this 20-year-long experiment is an excellent illustration of the effect climate has on the natural selection process that occurs in populations. As different environmental factors change, different members of a species become more fit or less fit, increasing or decreasing their chances at survival. In this case, cold winters challenged the survival of smaller sheep, resulting in relative domination by stockier sheep. DNA allows for various adaptations to different environments. Yet none of this adaptation / natural selection process changes the animal; in this experiment, the sheep-even while changing size-remain sheep. We never observe animals changing into other animals or gaining new structures because such change would require an increase in genetic information-information that cannot arise by random chance.

Even as scientists talk about evolution “in the real world,” what we observe does nothing to verify the story of molecules-to-man evolution. Rather, we observe animals adapting to their environments; we observe sheep breeding sheep, dogs breeding dogs, and so forth. Our observations are completely consistent with the biblical worldview, but stand in stark contrast to what evolutionists predict.


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