Nothing in this world is permanent. This golden rule necessitates that human beings will, one day, die out, completely erased from the surface of the Earth. What will happen then? Will there be another species to call themselves the dominator of our planet? A lecturer from the University of Sterling, Luc Bussiere, makes an exposé of his views of what might happen 50 million years after our extinction.
Luc Bussiere forecasts the situation of other species possibly inheriting the Earth 50 million years after humans will have disappeared to dominate our planet. If any species is to ‘replace’ us, it won’t necessarily be primates, according to him.
But, what is even meant by dominant species? Bussiere puts into perspective our definition thereof by mentioning how bacteria have dominated the world 1.2 billion years ago, and that they still, to some extent, do now. He also says that 4 of 5 animals is a roundworm (given certain standards). But, they are still not regarded as dominant species.
This shows that prevalence, abundance, and diversity are not what make a species a “dominant form of life”. We have, on the other hand, focused on large animals (multi-cellular ones) and regarded them as the most dominant ones. Bussiere is of the opinion that our designation of a dominant species is marked by a certain degree of narcissism. He also thinks that we have the propensity to think of our close relatives in terms of dominance.
Despite these human tendencies – characterised by our ‘myopia’, says Bussiere – non-human primates are not likely to take over the planet after our disappearance because apes will probably go extinct before us. This is based on the fact that we are the only existing hominids who are not endangered and that the event to wipe us out is unlikely to leave behind populations of other great apes. Bussiere also deems it unlikely for distant relatives to take our place.
Furthermore, human intelligence and dexterity are not matched by any other species. These characteristics are, therefore, not requisites for dominance among animals nor are they exclusively favoured by evolution. This implies that imagining our successors to be intelligent or social with the faculty of speech is a “profound mistake”.
So, if not a talking chimpanzee, what then? Bussiere describes the possible answer as being “both dissatisfying and thrilling”: we cannot know what that life form will look like.
Mass extinctions have happened in the past. In their aftermath, life diversified at a fast pace such that new forms were produced, many of which were unlike their ancestors that survived the extinction. To conclude, Bussiere mentions Stephen J. Gould’s theory that stipulates contingency is a great part of big transitions of animal life. As such, it is difficult to actually forecast whether new forms of life will be successful following an extinction. Bussiers says that this is a “humbling reminder of the complexity of evolutionary transitions”.