July 10, 2023 | David F. Coppedge

Biogeography: Whose Problem?

Don’t think that evolutionists are immune from
vexing questions about where species have dispersed

 

 

Mockers of Biblical creation laugh at cartoons of kangaroos hopping off the Ark from Mesopotamia to Australia. But did kangaroos evolve in Australia? Is the evolutionary answer free from difficulties? The fact is, no people saw how they got there, because it is a historical issue, not a scientific one. The best a scientist can do is model what kind of explanation best explains the current observations, and that kind of exercise is incumbent on every researcher, creationist or evolutionist.

Yes, creation scientists have given careful thought to questions in biogeography (example from ICR). They discuss their models regularly in creation journals uncensored by the Darwinists who rule the secular journals, and at conferences like the ICC. Evolutionists have one advantage going for their models: the freedom to make reckless drafts on the bank of time, giving them as many million Darwin Years as needed to work their magic. But they weren’t there, either. Let’s examine a current secular paper about biogeography.

Why You Won’t See Kangaroos In Java But You Will Find Goannas In Australia (Eurasia Review, 7 July 2023). The title opens up the “why” question for discussion: why are kangaroos found only in Australia, but goannas (large monitor lizards) found in Java and Australia? It’s part of a bigger question about the explanation for Wallace’s Line—”an imaginary line” first envisioned by Alfred Russel Wallace “that separates Australia, New Guinea and parts of Indonesia from continental Southeast Asia.” Surely the Darwin Party has already explained this, hasn’t it?

A major study led by biologists at The Australian National University (ANU) and ETH Zurich in Switzerland provides a new explanation for why you won’t find kangaroos, koalas and other Aussie marsupials in Indonesia, but you will find many groups of animals that originated in Asia, such as goannas, rodents and kookaburras in Australia.

So what is this new explanation? Drum roll, please: it’s the fix-all, skeleton-key solution to everything: climate change!

In a new paper published in Science, the researchers say changing plate tectonics and a dramatic shift in Earth’s climate tens of millions of years ago are the reasons for the uneven distribution of Australian and Asian creatures on both sides of the invisible boundary — finally providing an explanation for the enigma of Wallace’s Line, which has long baffled scientists.  

Yes, climate change. And they are proud that their new model will help global leaders anticipate the change in biogeography coming from man’s heating up the earth.

“Our findings could also inform predictions for animal migration in the future and help us predict which species may be better versed at adapting to new environments, as changes to Earth’s climate continues to impact global biodiversity patterns,” Dr Skeels said.

As for colliding plates (the other part of the model), two problems seem to have been glossed over in the article. Tectonic plates in Deep Time are supposed to move very slowly. Didn’t animals have plenty of time to hop over any barriers for millions of years? How many years does it take for a kangaroo to hop over a crack a few centimeters wide? Why didn’t birds fly over the line? How long did it take for the climate to change, such that most species on one side of Wallace’s Line couldn’t adapt for millions of years, but those on the other side could? Somebody didn’t think this through very thoroughly.

The other and more serious issue is how moving continents can drive innovations in animal bodies. This is a common form of magical thinking in evolutionary models. In our 7 July 2023 article update, a reporter thought that oxygen drove the invention of 18 new body plans in the Cambrian explosion. There is nothing about tectonic plates or climate that can generate new functional code in DNA. Why is nobody asking how weather can program genes?

Listen to Dr Alex Skeels of Australian National University wave the Darwin magic wand over the globe in his office, granting creative powers to weather:

“When Australia drifted away from Antarctica, it opened up this area of Deep Ocean surrounding Antarctica which is now where the Antarctic Circumpolar Current is. This dramatically changed Earth’s climate as a whole; it made the climate much cooler,” Dr Skeels said.

“Despite this global cooling, the climate on the Indonesian islands, which organisms used as a gateway to hop to Australia, remained relatively warm, wet and tropical. So Asian fauna were already well adapted and comfortable with these conditions, so that helped them settle in Australia.

“This was not the case for the Australian species. They had evolved in a cooler and increasingly drier climate over time and were therefore less successful in gaining a foothold on the tropical islands compared to the creatures migrating from Asia.”

Notice the word “hop”. Organisms used the Indonesian islands “as a gateway to hop to Australia,” he says. Those must have been some big hops; many of the islands are miles apart. Not even a kangaroo can hop that far.

The researchers analysed a dataset of about 20,000 birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians to determine which species hopped between Indonesia and Australia, and which ones were able to successfully adapt to their new home.

This makes no sense. Birds can fly long distances; they don’t need to hop. Amphibians are going to have a hard time hopping anywhere. None of this picture explains why kangaroos are in Australia but not anywhere near Wallace’s Line, or why the species change drastically over the line when the climate and weather is not all that different for many miles around the line. Why couldn’t the species adapt in place? Why did they need to hop at all? Is Darwin’s theory powerless to help a lizard, bird or kangaroo adapt to a change in the climate?

Let’s see if Skeels’ paper can do better telling this story.

Paleoenvironments shaped the exchange of terrestrial vertebrates across Wallace’s Line (Skeels et al., Science, 6 July 2023). The Editors of Science provided this summary:

The movement of species across newly connected continents millions of years ago still shapes flora and fauna today. Skeels et al. showed that species’ dispersal ability, climate tolerances, and the climate in which they evolved help to explain why biotic exchanges are typically unequal, with more species spreading from one continent than the other. Using a model simulating species ranges and diversification paired with paleoenvironmental reconstructions, the authors found that precipitation tolerance influenced vertebrate species movements across Wallace’s Line, which separates the distinct biota of Australia and New Guinea from that of Southeast Asia. Species that evolved in dry Australia were less able to cross to Asia, whereas the swath of tropical forest across the region allowed more species to move in the other direction through New Guinea.

The Editors and the authors seem to have no faith in the omnipotence of natural selection. The paper uses the e-word evolution a dozen times, but not adroitly. For example,

In the model, evolution of climatic niches was directed by the environmental conditions where species evolved….

In other words, the climate makes evolution evolve climate niches. Does that make sense? If species evolved in one set of environmental conditions, what held them back from adapting to new climatic niches? Skeels, where is your faith? Is Darwinian evolution all-powerful except when it isn’t? Giving it a jargon term like “niche conservatism” sounds like a dodge around this question. Definition: “the tendency for lineages to retain their ancestral environmental niche through time.” But why? What happened to the niche liberals? Is Skeels saying that Darwin fails in diversity, equity and inclusion?

In the conclusion, the authors do not have a firm answer, but they boast of adding “climate change” to existing evolutionary speculations. This was bound to help funding.

The longstanding view of biotic interchange is that it is primarily governed by plate tectonics and dispersal ability, with rates of colonization in terrestrial organisms being directly proportional to the source pool size, the geographic distance between regions, and the emergence of land bridges. A more complete picture emerges when the deep-time legacy of climate connectivity and niche conservatism on species distributions are also considered.

They just love that word emerge, using it in three different meanings within the final paragraph.

An emerging view of global biodiversity patterns is that they are largely the outcome of historical changes in plate tectonics shuffling lineages around the planet, in concert with major fluctuations in precipitation and temperature shaping dispersal, speciation, and extinction dynamics through environmental niches. A mechanistic modeling approach enables us to move beyond “lines” in biogeography and instead consider the processes that shape global variation in biodiversity patterns.

Land bridges emerge. Species emerge. And models emerge, provided one thinks mechanistically. Mechanistic processes like plate tectonics and climate change create kangaroos and kookaburra birds in Australia, but they can’t do it in Indonesia, because those species didn’t “emerge” there, and evolution was powerless over millions of years to help them adapt to new climates. That’s odd; many animals “evolved” to have a global distribution (e.g., Arctic terns, earthworms, butterflies, mosquitoes, tardigrades, and many more). Darwin works in strange ways.

For a contrasting view, read this proposal from Genesis Apologetics about how kangaroos got to Australia.

How ancient monkeys rode the waves to the Americas — and survived (Nature, 3 July 2023). Here’s an update on the evolutionary tale of the Rafting Monkeys. They did it three times! This “research highlight” article says, “Analysis suggests that three types of primate made the transoceanic journey to South America from Africa millions of years ago.

They did it millions of years ago, but they can’t do it today. Scientists have never observed this happen in human history, despite centuries of sailors watching from boats and ships. The reckless draft on the bank of time (“millions of years ago”) gives convenient cover for the vision of sailor monkeys. The power of suggestion (“analysis suggests“) gives additional cover against mockery. If the laughter becomes too loud, they can always shrug and say, “It was just a suggestion.”

Exercise: For middle and high school students, practice doing your own research outside the secular evolutionary castle. Use the keywords biogeography, kangaroo, migration, or other suitable words at some of the leading creation sites to compare thinking about how animals got to where they live today. Here is one example. Remember that there were no eyewitnesses to the migrations of animals, but there was an Eyewitness to the Flood and Noah’s Ark: the Creator himself, who revealed to us what happened.

For college students, search the creation journals for information on biogeography from a creation viewpoint.

 

 

 

 

 

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