08 August 2010


r AND K SELECTION. In ecology, r/K selection theory relates to the selection of combinations of traits in an organism that trade off between quantity or quality of offspring. The focus upon either increased quantity of offspring at the expense of individual parental investment, or upon reduced quantity of offspring with a correspondingly increased parental investment, is varied to promote success in particular environments (see graph below).

In unstable or unpredictable environments, r-selection predominates as the ability to reproduce quickly is crucial .... Traits that are thought to be characteristic of r-selection include high fecundity, small body size, early maturity onset, short generation time, and the ability to disperse offspring quickly. A few examples -- bacteria, diatoms, insects, coral, and small mammals.

In stable or predictable environments, K-selection predominates as the ability to compete successfully for limited resources is crucial, and populations of K-selected organisms typically are very constant and close to the maximum that the environment can bear. Traits that are thought to be characteristic of K-selection include large body size, long life expectancy, and the production of fewer offspring that require extensive parental care until they mature. A few examples -- elephants, trees, whales and humans.

Although some organisms are clearly r- or K-strategists, most organisms fall along a continuum between the two, exhibiting traits of both types of selection. Even within species, there can be variance. In humans, at times some populations reproduce copiously, others with greater restraint, depending on the environmental and cultural conditions within which they live.

MOSQUES. In a previous post, I commented upon the controversy surrounding the proposed building of a Muslim mosque a few blocks from the site of the former World Trade Center in New York City. It is deeply troubling, but not surprising, that we so readily set aside our nation's founding principles (including freedom of religion, which is guaranteed in the First Amendment to the US Constitution). Today's NYTimes reports that our cultural and religious intolerance is spreading across the nation (more likely it has existed all along, and is now rearing its ugly head in direct proportion to our perception that a certain religion or skin color is associated with the enemy de jour).

Mind you, these are American Muslims and American houses of worship we're talking about. Can you imagine the cultural implosion if certain communities were protesting the building of a Catholic or Protestant church? Has everyone in this country lost their freaking minds? It is so easy (and so intellectually lazy and irresponsible) to generalize from a few extremists and brand an entire religion or culture as evil. Think about it -- there is no better way to alienate a group of decent people than to marginalize them, or to oppress them.

But then, marginalizing and oppressing people are behaviors at which we Americans excel. We love to glorify ourselves, pointing to our finer qualities (and we have many). But we also live in persistent denial of our more venal qualities -- racism, greed, xenophobia, hunger for power, egotism, an distorted sense of our own importance. With more tolerance and humility, we might actually discover that we have much to learn from those we purport to hate.

All you knee-jerk reactionaries out there, this is not about mosques, or terrorism, or undocumented workers, or any other issue which fractures people, divides people. It is about two things. The first is money and power -- those who have it manipulate the opinions of those who don't. Don't be manipulated. Use your K-selected intelligence, question the news you hear, THINK. The second is remembering to honor our nation's founding principles. When was the last time you actually read the US Constitution and its Amendments? An intimate familiarity with our ideals should be inherent in any political discussion -- especially any discussion which threatens the fundamental rights of any group of humans -- whether they are citizens or not. How can we expect the world to wish to accept our form of government and life, when we fail to practice what we preach? (Click on any image to enlarge.)

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