KU Scientists Suggest Evolution Favors The ‘Survival Of The Laziest’ And Low Metabolic Rates

If you’ve had it with family and friends telling you day in and day out to get some exercise, take up a hobby, or stop being so lazy in general, you might want to bring up the findings of a new study from the University of Kansas that suggests the chances of extinction might all boil down to the “survival of the laziest.”

In a study published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B and cited in a University of Kansas press release on Tuesday, the researchers behind the new study explained their findings, which were culled from a large-scale study of almost 300 fossilized and extant bivalves and gastropods in the Atlantic Ocean. The team found that the species who had the lowest metabolic rates, or the lowest amount of energy required to exist on a daily basis, were the ones that were least likely to go extinct.

“We found a difference for mollusk species that have gone extinct over the past 5 million years and ones that are still around today,” explained lead author Luke Strotz, a postdoctoral researcher at KU’s Biodiversity Institute and Natural History Museum.

“Those that have gone extinct tend to have higher metabolic rates than those that are still living. Those that have lower energy maintenance requirements seem more likely to survive than those organisms with higher metabolic rates.”

The researchers also discovered that higher metabolic rates had a better chance of predicting extinction when the species was not as broadly distributed, and a lower chance of doing so when they had a wider habitat across the ocean.

According to study co-author Bruce Lieberman, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at KU, the “survival of the laziest” theory, or having lower metabolic rates, might apply to animals in general in the long term.

Talking about the study’s ramifications in the short term, Strotz said that his team’s research could be vital in determining which species might become endangered or extinct as climate change continues to pose a threat to the animal kingdom. He did stress, however, that a higher metabolism should not be considered a definitive indicator of a species’ chances of extinction, as many other variables could factor into the equation.

“With a higher metabolic rate, a species is more likely to go extinct. So, it’s another tool in the toolbox. This will increase our understanding of the mechanisms that drive extinction and help us to better determine the likelihood of a species going extinct.”

Speaking to The Guardian, co-author Lieberman explained that the “survival of the laziest” metaphor should not be interpreted as a sign that lazy people are “the fittest,” as these individuals are sometimes the ones that “consume the most resources.” He stressed that the general laziness of humanity might be our species’ own undoing, given the role mankind has played in climate change since the start of the industrial era, but nonetheless summarized his team’s work by saying that a species’ sluggishness “can make you more likely to survive.”

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