Who evolves who?

It’s no secret that we humans are leaving quite a mark on this planet, some good, a lot bad. But through all this drastic environmental change, little pockets of evolution are starting to emerge from a human habit that is slowly becoming less fashionable.

First and foremost, smoking is bad, don’t start! But for the over one billion smokers on the planet you may be interested to know that cigarette butts are being put to good use by one non-human inhabitant of our fragile world.

Anyone who works in a City will be familiar with the clouds of smoke and vapour that pulse outside large faceless buildings as workers take a well-earned ‘fag break’. Little metal boxes pinned to the outside of these offices collect the nicotine-stained butts while the pavements end up a depositary for readily discarded fag ends of stroller-smokers. And street sweepers aren’t the only ones who collect them. Whilst humans trash the little white stubs city dwelling birds are seeking them out to use as anti-parasite treatments. For a long time birds have lined their nests with vegetation rich in compounds that repel parasites, but the nicotine and other compounds found in smoked cigarettes function as a repellent in urban bird nests. And studies have shown that the more nicotine present the more effective the repellent, so next time you see a smoker, don’t judge, just think what a service their cast off is providing to a bird in need.

Turning to another unhealthy subject, who’s seen the recent TV programme – Chernobyl?

Through years of nuclear weapon tests and industrial disasters pretty much everything around us, including homosapiens, has a measurable level of Carbon-14. Unfortunately, having been lied to by pop culture for many years, this hasn’t left us with superpowers but it is helping in the fight against evil! By tracking minute differences of carbon levels in the atmosphere it is easier to identify ivory that has been acquired illegally. Poached ivory enters the market very quickly, being able to accurately identify the year an elephant has died it is easy to locate the source of the ivory (and its carbon levels) and its route to market. Now that’s going to get a lot of poachers hot under the collar!

Something else that is warming up is the earth’s climate. Climate change is a growing issue for all land-based mammals. Melting icebergs threaten to either provide us all with sea views, or a watery grave, depending on if you are a glass half empty person.

But you know what does enjoy the melting ice? Ocean life, the melting ice actually releases iron which nourishes and enhances the plant life in the water. This feeds the microscopic phytoplankton which in turn feeds a range of sea creatures includes whales, snails and jellyfish. What’s more, these organisms that feed off the melting icebergs are some of the best on earth at removing carbon dioxide from our atmosphere.

What lessons can we learn from this? Maybe to save the planet we should issue birds with ciggy rations, drench endangered animals with radiation and applaud the melting of icecaps…okay maybe the message does need some work!

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