Farmers

Masters of the Earth

wheat

Something very unfortunate happens with the rise of a species to true sapience. Just forty thousand years ago our genus – Homo – was well represented with its half dozen species scattered around Afro-Eurasia, then, in the twinkling of an eye (by evolutionary time-scales) all but one of them disappeared. The sole survivor then proceeded to spread around all of Earth’s lands… and here we are!

Recently a debate has arisen over the role our aggression played in the demise of our fellow hominids. We humans are all too familiar with the faults of our species, such that we can easily imagine the possible ways we may have once treated our brethren, yet whether our ancestors waged war against them, hunted them down, or were their bosom pals is irrelevant to all but moral considerations. The likely truth is that all but one species would have been doomed anyway.

Back then, the two hominids leading the pack in this race were Homo sapiens of Africa and Homo neanderthenis of Europe. At that time, these species occupied quite different niches with H. neanderthenis built for colder conditions and with a diet that was at least 90% meat. Our species had been evolving in the tropics and had a diet that was at least 70% plant matter. Given such differences, ecology allows (some would say demands) for two otherwise similar generalist species to live in a permanent balance with each other. This ecological ‘truce’ was about to be challenged by a new type of change. Art and body decoration were appearing in both species, and they were developing clever new ways of finding food and expanding their home ranges…

Now each of these emboldened apes could switch to the other’s diet if they really had to, yet this would normally be of no dire consequence to either. The slow way that evolution drives innovation, dictates that the species that specialised in catching meat would always be best at that, and the one that foraged would always be best at its specialty. However, a new way of transferring information had arrived, and it allowed changes that could be orders of magnitude faster than those driven by genetics.

In the good years both species would have been free to operate in harmony, but occasional episodes of overpopulation or drought were unavoidable. When they came, each species would take what it could, even if that deprived the other of what little food they had. The species that could adapt the fastest would now have a decisive advantage at grabbing most of what little was left, despite any specialty advantages of the other. The process would be driven by desperate attempts to prevent their own children from starving, not malice.

It should come as no surprise that the first blush of sapience would be accompanied by such accidental genocide (though you might well suspect worse in our particular rise). Thereafter followed a global dispersal, and finally, with the advent of agriculture, a reshaping of the entire global ecosystem to our needs. In this way, the rise of a species to true sapience produces a unique ecological signature that most scientists would have assumed was too conspicuous to miss.

When I began this study I imagined it still possible that some rising species of the ocean had gone part of the way along that track, perhaps even through the first two of those phases. I never thought that one could have got all the way to the third. I was wrong. I invite you to begin the journey by simply Wikipeding ‘fertilisation of the oceans’. Alternatively you can google it, then refer only to peer reviewed references in articles to find that same conclusion at a more leisurely pace.

Over the last year the relevant Wikipedia entry has changed a lot, with an article that concentrated on natural fertilisation being replaced by one that concentrated on how humans might be capable of doing it in the near future, but careful examination still reveals the same truth. Currently only one species has significant impact on the productivity of the ocean’s and it ain’t us.

ocean productivity

I invite you to look at the map above. Note how estuaries, where rivers wash minerals from the land to the ocean’s surface layers, are highly productive. Also note how much of the ocean (in deep blue above) is barely as active as a terrestrial desert. Most of ocean’s biomass is grown in those large lighter blue and green denoted regions that lie between those extremes. It is there that sperm whales alter the sea environment to an extent comparable to our role on land. They fertilise the oceans so significantly that it overcompensates for the food they consume. In the Antarctic the factor by which they do so is around six, and that may answer another mystery…

Sperm whales are so numerous that they now take more protein from the oceans than all the human fisheries combined. The odd thing is that models demand their population was at least three times larger in the days before commercial whaling began. Furthermore, Hal Whitehead has estimated their maximum population growth rate at 1% per annum. Such populations require very little variation in feed-stock from year to year for their very existence. You might well begin to wonder how the ocean ecosystem was once so well balanced and robust as to support that former number of them. Here is where I first realised the possibility of intelligent guidance in their ocean fertilisation must be taken seriously.

So the entire possibility that a second animal is using its intelligence to farm Earth falls to one species. If there is another civilised species on Earth it could only be the sperm whales, even if there was the remotest of possibilities that another might be sapient.

SEE how they farm

or CONTINUE to find their social and cultural structure

3 comments on “Farmers
  1. Headcase says:

    Very interesting read! Looking forward to exploring the rest of this site

  2. Jacob says:

    Hi, I really enjoyed your articles on relative brain size and behaviour of the sperm whales, but in all honesty most of this seems like pure speculation. Have you got any sources to back up the claims made here?

  3. corpusl says:

    Thank you for you question Jacob, though I wish you had been more specific. On these pages evidence is of two types. 1) Scientifically examined case studies, that are powerful as clarion calls for further work, and that should point the future direction of research, but that should never be equated with more direct evidence. 2) more direct evidence that relies on very large surveys, or meta-analysis.

    An example of the first is given on my page on the sinking of the Essex, though Mocha Dick is a better example though less studied (both pages are under the whaling Behaviour tab) the reference I gave to how difficult it is to explain that sinking using their known behaviour patterns comes from Nature magazine, but I could give other papers on it.
    http://www.nature.com/news/2002/020610/full/news020603-7.html

    An example I give of the second type is the famous meta-analysis that first showed that 65% of all variance in interspecies intelligence difference was explained by unadjusted brain size differences in primates. I did not pick that one mammalian group randomly, it is just a sad reflection that most non-human intelligence studies have been performed on other primates – and that even now (ten years later!) we have insufficient data to publish another such meta-analysis on another group. If we did, and it was on cetaceans, the main question asked by this website would be rapidly addressed by those in the field without any prompting from me. Here is that seminal primate study
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3049098/
    Note that an r squared correlation of .65 is extraordinary, and seldom seen in this sort of survey. Also note that they tried many different ways of adjusting brain size for body size, all lowering the correlation dramatically. An example is the use of EQ, rather than raw brain size, that was shown to destroy about 80% of the predicative power of brain size for cognitive ability. Finally note that we have no direct intelligence data on the great whales, such that their enormous absolute brain sizes becomes relevant (eg. it suddenly becomes reasonable to believe that whaling might be murder under ANY definition – and should be suspended pending significant evidence that their intelligence is lower than ours)

    If you have a more specific question, I would be only too happy to answer it with more appropriate references.

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