I got thinking about this after rereading the PETA and pets node.

Could it actually be an evolutionary advantage for a species to be domesticated, or for it to be easy for them to be? After all, from an evolutionary standpoint, isn't the point of life to reproduce and spread the genes? And whatever in the environment affects the success rate of this part of what deteremines how well they're adapted?

To put it this way, an animal species that is domesticated by humans will have a greater chance of reproduction and success. Look at dogs, cats, cows, horses. All useful in various ways, and all very successful as to the number of them, and variety, in comparison to a wild species. By proving useful to people, they get protected, taken care of, and helped to reproduce.

PETA complains about pets as if it's a horrible thing we're doing to them. But what's wrong with an animal being readily able to adapt to live amongs human society and interacting with them? Shouldn't we be saying, "wow, what a great example of evolution and adaption?" Am I forcing my cats to live with me against their will? Or are my cats just another example of incredible success at evolving, having reached a point where they can convince another species to care for their every need?

They've learned how to control me more than I've learned how to control them. Why penalize them for following the rules of natural selection, just not in the way some people consider "natural"??


Is there a difference between evolution and design? Most specifically I ask this about breeding for certain characteristics. We're not talking re-writing DNA here, just that people are choosing what traits determine the reproductive fitness - just not thinking of it that way.

Does evolution stop being evolution because the forces that determine success change from what allows them to survive better in the wild to what makes them more desirable for another species? It's still being determined by an outside force. It's not the process that's really any different, just the rules for success.

Of course it is. Just divide the number of dogs in your country by the number of wolves (in France it is probably an 8-figure number).

However the notion of "Evolutionary advantage" is of little help in a debate about ethics. After all, killing all "unfit" people (deliberately vague term - you can put whatever you want in it) would be an evolutionary advantage as well, wouldn't it ?
Bane - "But, by man's artificial selection of these animals, we may be straying them far from their evolutionary fate."

There's no such thing as "evolutionary fate". Predestination, just like intelligent design, is directly opposed to the very fundamentals of evolutionary theory. Species evolve in response to selection pressures, which can range from predictable (eg. periodic increases in predator population) to completely random (eg. KT-scale asteroid hit).

Being chosen by a sentient species as a useful domestic animal is just another event, maybe predictable, probably not. But the minute that sentient species starts to deliberately breed or genetically engineer their new acquisition to suit their purposes, artifical selection replaces natural selection, and the term "evolution" doesn't really apply anymore.

Of course, a species which is chosen for domestication has higher fitness than one which is chosen for genocide, simply because it will probably produce more offspring.

I'm not sure that this question really makes sense in terms of modern evolutionary theory, because the term "evolutionary advantage" does not have an explicit meaning. If I may, I would like to rephrase this question as "Is being domesticated adaptive?" The meaning of the term adaptive is actually somewhat controversial among evolutionary biologists, but for this w/u I think it will be sufficient to say that something is adaptive if, relative to other possibilities, the trait of interest has a higher fitness. Recall that fitness is defined as the number of descendents in a future generation of a population.

Given this understanding, we can ask if being domesticated is adaptive. We can compare the fitness of a domesticated individual to a non-domesticated individual. But the problem that we are going to run into right away is that these two individuals, the domesticated and the non-domesticated, are parts of two essentially independent populations, at least for most domestic species. So for your cats, the descendants of the domestic individuals constitute all of the future generations. Since they are part of two different populations, it really doesn't make sense to compare the fitnesses of the two groups. And since we can't compare the fitnesses, we can't say if one is more adaptive than the other.

In essence, I think that being domesticated is really more of an event than a trait. This question is sort of similar to asking "Was landing on the Galapagos Islands by the ancestor of Darwin's finches adaptive?" The event is not adaptive- it simply happened, even if it caused the great adaptive radiation of Darwin's finches we see today. If the ancestor of Darwin's finches had some trait which predisposed it to find those islands, than that trait might have been adaptive; the event was not. Similarly, traits which make organisms domesticatable might be adaptive. (I need to think more about this.) But the act itself is not something that can have adaptive value.

Is this what was originally intent by the question? I'm not sure it was, and I think it comes from a different intent of "evolutionary advantage." Evolution (as understood by evolutionary biologists) does not claim to tell us anything about the "point of life". We can't appeal to it for a justification of what is or isn't right.

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