Will rats one day grow to 'giant' proportions?

Posted by ap507 at Jan 07, 2014 03:20 PM |
University researchers featured in The New Yorker article on the changing nature of the world's geology
Will rats one day grow to 'giant' proportions?

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Rats make for good domestic pets due to their small size - but 'giant' rats might not be quite so manageable to keep.

In an article in The New Yorker, Dr Jan Zalasiewicz from the Department of Geology suggests that, due to changes in environmental and geological conditions, rats may one day grow to be significantly larger due to their penchant for adaptability and survival.

He said: “Some number will probably stay ratsize and rat-shaped, but others may well shrink or expand. Particularly if there’s been epidemic extinction and ecospace opens up, rats may be best placed to take advantage of that. We know that change in size can take place fairly quickly.”

Rats have a remarkable habit of ending up in places that they shouldn't, showing their enterprising nature - rat bones have been found world-wide in obscure locations, including on remote islands. For example, the Pacific rat, a native of Southeast Asia, travelled with Polynesian seafarers to, among many other places, Hawaii, Fiji, Tahiti, Tonga, Samoa, Easter Island, and New Zealand.

Outside of furry critters growing to gargantuan sizes, Dr Zalasiewicz also suggests in the article that the Holocene, the epoch in which we live, has come to an end, and that we're now living in the 'Anthropocene', emphasising the impact of mankind on the world-wide geological landscape. To geologists, an 'epoch' is a subdivision of a 'period', which, in turn, is a division of an 'era'.

In the article, Professor Mark Williams from the Department of Geology identifies subways as a good indicator of the impact of humans on the environment. He said: “All the great world cities have underground systems now. They’re extensive, they’re fairly permanent from a geological perspective, and they’re a very, very good indicator of the complexity that’s come to characterize the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.”

Source: Wikimedia Commons
The article concludes by discussing how ‘neocatastrophies’ can make the world change incredibly quickly, such as when the dinosaurs were theorised to have been wiped out during the Cretaceous period by a devastating asteroid. 

Dr Zalasiewicz predicts that in the future, we may experience a man-made neocatastrophe. He said: "Ultimately, most of our carbon emissions will end up in the oceans; this will dramatically alter the chemistry of the water, turning it more acidic. Ocean acidification is associated with some of the worst crises in biotic history, including what’s known as the end-Permian extinction, which took place roughly two hundred and fifty million years ago and killed off something like ninety per cent of the species on the planet."

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