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New Research Suggests Laziness Was An Effective Strategy In Survival And Evolution

Aug 22, 2018 08:13 PM EDT
Being a couch potato may be unproductive, but researchers reveal it has benefits in survival. A new study analyzes extinct and existing mollusks to gauge the link between metabolic rates and extinction.
(Photo : Pixabay)

This time, science sides with couch potatoes: research has found that some lazy species outlived their more enterprising counterparts in the fight for survival.

While the common phrase has always been the "survival of the fittest," in some cases, it could be the "survival of the laziest." A comprehensive study published in the journal of Proceedings of the Royal Society B suggests that laziness could be an effective long-term strategy for both individuals and species.

According to the University of Kansas, researchers from the university analyzed 299 species of fossilized and surviving bivalves and gastropods from the Atlantic Ocean. The study subjects were from a period of 5 million years, ranging from mid-Pliocene to present day.

Lazy Mollusks Win Out

Study author Luke Strotz explains that the team initially wondered whether it's possible to detect a species' probability of extinction based on its energy uptake.

They found that mollusks that burned the highest amount of energy in their daily lives were more likely to be extinct than those that are still around.

"The probable explanation is that things that were more sluggish or lazy had lower energy or food requirements and thus could make do with little when times were bad," Bruce Lieberman, a fellow study author and a professor of ecology and biology, tells The Guardian.

Species Distribution Also A Factor

Another significant discovery was that the link between metabolic rates and extinction was more pronounced in cases where the species were limited to a small habitat. Those that were more widely distributed over the ocean, even while displaying high metabolic rates, have less of an extinction likelihood.

While mollusks are used for this specific study due to the vast amount of data available on them, the authors say that the next step is to see if the same trend holds for other types of animals.

Predicting Extinctions

The findings, which show that metabolic rates affect extinction, could help forecast which animals are at risk of disappearing in this age of climate change.

Strotz, Lieberman, and their co-authors Julien Kimmig and Erin Saupe are all aware that metabolic rates are not the only driver behind a species dying out. However, it does increase the likelihood as well as help scientists gain a better understanding of the mechanisms behind extinction.

"These results say that the metabolic rate of an organism is a component of extinction likelihood," Stotz, a postdoctoral researcher at KU's Biodiversity Institute and Natural History Museum, points out. "With a higher metabolic rate, a species is more likely to go extinct. So, it's another tool in the toolbox."

Human Laziness

This new research may seem like a great excuse to embrace being lazy, but Lieberman clarifies to The Guardian that the research doesn't necessarily translate to lazy humans being the fittest.

"Alas sometimes those lazy people are the ones that consume the most resources," he says. "Humanity's laziness, when it comes to trying to arrest the changes to the planet we are causing, may be the biggest peril our own species faces."

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