Evolution May Be Happening Up to 4 Times Faster Than We Thought, Massive Study Finds

Scientists evaluated almost 2.6 million hours of field data - genetic information on numerous species - in one of the most extensive scientific studies of the riddles of evolution ever performed.

According to a new study undertaken by Australian National University, animal evolution may be occurring four times quicker than previously assumed.

The scientists examined existing long-term records of genetic information from 19 different wild animal groups from around the world and discovered that the more genetic diversity there are within species, the faster evolution occurs.

The phenomenon was dubbed the "fuel of evolution" by the researchers.

To mine the datasets, the researchers created quantitative genetic tools and discovered that  "additive genetic variance in relative fitness is often substantial and, on average, twice that of previous estimates".

"The method gives us a way to measure the potential speed of current evolution in response to natural selection across all traits in a population," evolutionary biologist Timothee Bonnet stated. "This is something we have not been able to do with previous methods, so being able to see so much potential change came as a surprise to the team." 

The average length of each field study is roughly 30 years, with the longest taking 63 years and the shortest taking 11 years. The researchers studied the development of creatures such as Australia's fairy-wrens, Canada's song sparrows, Tanzania's spotted hyenas, and Scotland's red deer.

Because this is the first large-scale study of evolution, experts need additional information to be certain that evolution is proceeding quicker than Charles Darwin predicted.

"This research has shown us that evolution cannot be discounted as a process which allows species to persist in response to environmental change," Bonnet said. "What we can say is that evolution is a much more significant driver than we previously thought in the adaptability of populations to current environmental changes."