Vol 7 Animals in Danger ... Introduction ... Extinction
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Species vanish because they can no longer survive - life really is a case of 'survival of the fittest'.
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In order to talk about extinction we have to first go back to Charles Darwin and the theory of Natural Selection. The central component of this theory is the idea of ‘survival of the fittest’. If acquisition of camouflage coloration is going to protect suitably camouflaged individuals against attack by predators, then those individuals will survive while their more colorful colleagues will fall by the wayside. But sometimes the characteristics which allow a species to evolve and ‘improve’ itself can be the species’ downfall.

There are several examples which illustrate this problem. Big is not always better. Animals like humpback whales have evolved for a variety of reasons to be big and ungainly and need a lot of resources to support them. This makes them at risk. Large meat-eaters like lions and tigers are also rare. If their food supply vanished, so would they. In a similar way, animals that have evolved to rely on a specialized diet, like the nectar-eating Hawaiian honeycreeper are highly dependent on the presence of certain plant types.

Species like these are vulnerable. We don’t have to go far out of our way to put them on the endangered list. But other species take more heavy-handedness on the part of mankind. American alligators are well suited to their swampy lifestyle in the southeastern USA. Add in commercial exploitation, extermination due to fear, and destruction of the alligator’s natural habitat, and you have a clear recipe for extinction.