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Sharlene Santana in Vox on imagining the future evolution of animals on Earth

Thursday, October 21, 2021 - 09:00

Sharlene Santana, Professor of Biology, is quoted in a Vox article in which evolutionary biologists and paleontologists imagine what animals might exist one day and how our actions could spur their arrival.

Climate change, some research suggests, is already “shape shifting” animals — shrinking certain migratory birds and speeding up the life cycles of amphibians, for example. No one knows exactly what changes to plants and animals will transpire in the years to come. Still, evolutionary biologists say it’s worth trying to imagine what creatures will evolve in the future.

The distant future is also likely to be more watery, as sea-level rise decreases the portion of the planet covered by dry land. In envisioning a world of rising seas and altered coastlines, some scientists think about how certain animals might take to living in more marine environments.

Sharlene Santana, a professor of biology at the University of Washington, considers how a bat species might evolve to live off of, and around, the oceans. She imagines a bat with a six-foot wingspan taking shape, capable of gliding like an albatross instead of flapping its wings, perhaps covering hundreds of miles in search of food or islands to roost. It might use finely-tuned echolocation to sense ripples in the water in order to detect fish. (In fact, some bats already do this.)

“This bat is doing something that bats cannot do today, which is to sail and soar on ocean air currents for very long distances,” Santana says. “I call it the sailing bat.”

Read the full article on Vox.

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