Swimming Monkeys Keep Darwin Happy
The tree of placental mammals has been solved, Darwinians say, if you can handle one little complication.
Science Daily begins an article with Fanfare for the Common Descent:
The roots of the mammalian family tree have long been shrouded in mystery — when did the placental mammals go their separate ways? Now, researchers say they’ve found where the family tree of placental mammals first branched apart — and when it happened.
As the profs at University of Bristol slap their hands together over a job well done, and the press applauds, a carnival of the animals parades by, with armadillos, mice, elephants, lions and monkeys celebrating their kinship with the scientists.
The researchers assembled the largest mammalian phylogenomic dataset ever collected before testing it with a variety of models of molecular evolution, choosing the most robust model and then analysing the data using several supercomputer clusters at the University of Bristol and the University of Texas Advanced Computing Centre. “We tested it to destruction,” said Dr Tarver. “We threw the kitchen sink at it.“
Astute readers may wonder why this took so long since Darwin, and how the new solution differs from previous attempts to un-shroud the mystery.
“A complication in reconstructing evolutionary histories from genomic data is that different parts of genomes can and often do give conflicting accounts of the history,” said Dr Siavash Mirarab at the University of California San Diego, USA. “Individual genes within the same species can have different histories. This is one reason why the controversy has stood so long — many thought the relationships couldn’t be resolved.“
Through the wizardry of computerized phylogenetic analysis, the scientists came up with a tree they liked. There was one little complication, but it was quickly subsumed under an auxiliary hypothesis.
Previously, scientists thought that when Africa and South America separated from each other over 100 million years ago, they broke up the family of placental mammals, who went their separate evolutionary ways divided by geography. But the researchers found that placental mammals didn’t split up until after Africa and South America had already separated.
“We propose that South America’s living endemic Xenarthra (for exmaple [sic], sloths, anteaters, and armadillos) colonized the island-continent via overwater dispersal,” said study author Dr Rob Asher of the University of Cambridge, UK.
Maybe the sloth did the backstroke so it could sleep and swim at the same time. Anteaters? Don’t they have a built-in snorkel? And the armadillos might have rolled up into balls to cross the Atlantic. The reporters appear restless as they imagine this.
Dr Asher suggests that this isn’t as difficult as you might think. Mammals are among the great adventurers of the animal kingdom, and at the time the proto-Atlantic was only a few hundred miles wide. We already know that New World monkeys crossed the Atlantic later, when it was much bigger, probably on rafts formed from storm debris. And, of course, mammals repeatedly colonised remote islands like Madagascar.
Hey, if the monkeys can swim almost 2,000 miles, can’t the rest of you zoo mammals do a few hundred? Where’s your sense of adventure? Just do the dog paddle like those wolves over there. If a cow can jump over the moon, this shouldn’t be so hard for you reporters to swallow. The reputation of Darwin is at stake! Get over it.
Wasn’t it the creationists who got laughed to scorn for postulating that animals dispersed to remote continents after the Flood by floating on rafts of debris? The evolutionists could surely test their model. Just show us some monkeys on a raft with a sign that reads, “South America or bust!” Or how about some cows doing the cow paddle in the middle of the Atlantic? Reepicheep in a boat heading for Rio?