Evolution may occur faster than once thought, scientists claim

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Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Two graduate students at Harvard University claim to have shown that evolution can happen much faster than previously thought. Physics student Peter Lu and his former roommate, economist Motohiro Yogo, decided to apply an economics model to a well-known marine fossil record in order to predict how fast life can adapt to changes in the environment. The technique, vector autoregression, is used to predict the stock market based on its historical behavior.

Initially their model confirmed previous analysis that life was slow to adapt. However, fossil-preserving rocks from some periods are more commonly found than from others. When they compensated for this, the lag disappeared. So far as could be seen from the geological record, the biosphere seemed to respond immediately to changes. This would mean that life could rapidly recover from large extinctions; it was previously thought such recovery would take millions of years.