Evolution simply is the process by which living organisms develop or change over time. Natural Selection or survival of the fittest is a cornerstone of modern biology, and one of the mechanisms of evolution. The notion of natural selection stems from the premise that survival is essentially everything.
My favourite, imaginary, albeit not entirely correct example is using a pride of lions. The fastest lions will tend to survive since they can catch prey, and mate. Over time lions will be faster, as speed is a selection pressure and the trait of speed or muscle strength is a favourable one in terms of survival.
Now, what am I talking about with this Super Fast Evolution…It can’t be true right, we are talking about thousands of years maybe? Nope, I do mean super fast. In a nutshell, if natural selection is strong, it is possible for evolution to occur quickly, we are talking about survival remember, and it’s what inherently drives life…
One of the hypotheses in evolution is that “negative interactions between closely related species” can push evolutionary change. Interestingly, a 2014 paper (Stuart et al), documented an evolutionary change developing in lizards over a mere 15 years.
The story begins with the Carolina anole (Anolis carolinesis), which was until recently the only lizard in the American South West. It was the Zaddy for all intents and purposes, after all, with no competition it could do as it pleases. Until a contender arrived in the form of the brown anole (Anolis sagrei), which, aided by the delightful pet industry, invaded poor Carolina anole’s habitat – and it was no longer the only fish in the pond.
The mixing of these two competitors over time bought about a curious result since in effect they now had to compete for space and resources. The Carolina anole began perching higher up in the trees and their toe-pads became larger allowing them better grip in the higher reaches. This change occurred over the course of 15 years (or 20 lizard generations). This result shows that “interspecific interactions” between closely related species, the anole lizards, in this case, can drive evolutionary change in a super-fast manner.
Here I would like to clarify something, it isn’t that they just started randomly growing bigger toe pads to climb up, although perhaps a random mutation could have occurred. The simplest way to understand it is that lizards with bigger toe pads perched higher, that is, were better equipped, and therefore more likely to mate. Successful mating over time led to that trait becoming more evident, as the lizards adapted to their environment, and the genes for such the trait became more common.
So evolution happens all the time and can be fast, and it does not have to be massive change worthy of a Hollywood film.
Another intriguing thing about mutations and genetic changes is virus strains, yes, like the trending covid strains from the UK and Brazil, more on that here.