Life

What Animals Could Evolve Human-Like Intelligence If Humans Went Extinct?

  Human beings are unique among all life on earth. As far as we know, humans are the only species in existence that has evolved higher intelligence, can wear clothes, can cook, invented smartphones, and can be blocked from doors because of forgotten passwords.
  But what if humans suddenly went extinct? Which other animals may evolve human-like intelligence and abilities to create large and complex societies?
Chimpanzees share a fate with humans

  With modern gene-sequencing technology and knowledge of species evolution, “we can make pretty good short-term predictions,” says Martha Lesskind, a molecular ecologist at North Carolina State University. For example, it is foreseeable that if humans suddenly became extinct tomorrow, climate change will continue to drive many species to evolve towards drought tolerance. Hardy species will continue to struggle, which means polar bears and penguins are unlikely to thrive without humans gone.
  Scottish geologist and science writer Dougall Dixon once said: “There is an important concept called ‘convergence’.” Convergence refers to the successful adaptation of two unrelated organisms to a specific environment or to fill a specific ecological niche. An evolutionary process that eventually develops similar traits.
  Humans are particularly good at building houses and reasoning spatially thanks to one physical trait, dexterous hands, according to research from the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom. To fill humanity’s ecological role (that is, to be able to build cities and substantially modify the environment), future species will need to possess a human-like ability to manipulate objects. In other words, they need opposable thumbs — or at least thumb-like organs — that can align with other fingers.
  Other primates, such as chimpanzees and bonobos, our closest living relatives, already have opposable thumbs and can make tools with their own hands in the wild. If humans become extinct, these close relatives may replace humans, just like in the American movie “Planet of the Apes”.
  There is precedent for this kind of iteration—after all, according to a study published in the British journal Nature in 2021, our ancestors defeated the intelligent Neanderthals in the last ice age 40,000 years ago. But even so, other great apes may have needed hundreds of thousands or even millions of years of evolution to develop the ability to make and use complex tools.
  However, any catastrophe sufficient to wipe out humans would also wipe out chimpanzees. Therefore, another creature that knows how to use tools is expected to fill in the gaps of humans: birds.
Birds Poised to Be the New Overlords

  After the non-avian dinosaurs went extinct 66 million years ago, mammals arose to fill many of the gaps they left. If humans disappeared, the surviving dinosaur species, the birds, would likely take our place as the smartest and most dexterous land animals. Contrary to people’s stereotypes, birds are actually very smart: the US “Science” weekly published an article in 2020, pointing out that some birds are even as intelligent as chimpanzees, such as crows and ravens. Science also published a famous study in 2002 claiming that some birds can use their dexterous feet and beaks to make hooks from wire. The American Fun Science website previously reported that trained African gray parrots can learn more than 100 words and perform simple calculations, including understanding the concept of zero.
  Birds congregate in flocks, and some even create communal nesting sites, such as social weavers. The Swiss magazine “Frontiers of Ecology and Evolution” once published an article stating that the nests of some social weavers will be used for decades. Of course, these tree nests are quite different from human cities in appearance.
  However, there is another group of animals that are particularly good at manipulating objects with their limbs-only they have “eight limbs” instead of four.
  Jennifer Mather, a cephalopod expert at the University of Lethbridge in Canada, told reporters: “Under the influence of the environment, intelligence changes your behavior.” By this standard, the octopus may be the most intelligent non-human animal on earth. human animal. The bimonthly Biological Bulletin of the United States published an article in 2020 stating that octopuses can learn to distinguish between real objects and virtual objects. Octopuses even engineer their environments, removing unwanted algae from their nests and blocking their nest entrances with shells, according to a study published in the journal Communication and Integrative Biology. They can even live in some form of social life, such as the “octopus villages” found on the ocean floor off Australia.
Octopuses and insects have great potential

  However, octopuses have a hard time adapting to life on land. The blood cells of vertebrates contain iron, which can effectively bind oxygen molecules. By contrast, octopuses and their relatives, which contain copper in their blood cells, can also bind oxygen molecules, but not so easily. So octopuses can only live in water rich in oxygen molecules, not in thin air. “They’re doing the best they can, and they have an inefficient metabolism,” Mather said.
  Because of this, Mather feels it’s unlikely that octopuses and other cephalopods will migrate from the sea to land and take over the human mantle as the most The smartest and most ecologically influential land animal. She favors social insects such as ants and termites. “I think insects are tougher than us. Unfortunately, they’re also tougher than cephalopods,” Mather said.
  Here’s why: Insects are good at adapting to different types of environments. The Natural History Museum claims that insects have been around for 480 million years. During this period, they evolved to fill almost every ecological niche you can think of, from the air to the ground to the water, and they even built elaborate “towers” similar to cities. The organization of ant and termite colonies may be closer to human civilization than to any other non-human species on Earth. The British “Journal of the Royal Society Biology Branch” published a paper in 2017 that ants know how to grow fungal plants. A 2021 article in the British “Scientific Report” magazine pointed out that termites can communicate over long distances through vibrations in colonies. If humans go extinct, these insect colonies could take over the world—if they survive climate change.
  Of course, all of the above is speculation. Predicting evolutionary processes accurately on the scale of geological chronology is nearly impossible. “The further you go, the less precise you get because there are just so many wonderful factors that make the difference,” Lesskind said. These factors include random mutations, sudden extinction events, and population bottlenecks (where a species will narrowly escaped extinction, but lost most of its genetic diversity).
  And it’s even harder to predict whether new species will develop human-level intelligence and a will to build cities. Mather thinks it’s possible, but it would require the right selection pressure over millions of years. Dixon was less sanguine, saying: “I don’t think nature makes the same mistake twice.”

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