Creation 32(4):45–47, October 2010
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Plants and animals around the world
Why are they found where they are?
In March 2010, internationally renowned atheist Richard Dawkins addressed the Global Atheist Convention in Melbourne, Australia. He said, “The pattern of geographical distribution [of plants and animals] is just what you would expect if evolution had happened.”1 He then went on to say that the distribution is “not what you would expect on certain alternative ideas … like if they had all dispersed from Noah’s Ark.”
However, a closer look at the science of biogeography (the study of the distributions of plants and animals) reveals a very different picture to the one Professor Dawkins painted.
If plants and animals had evolved over millions of years then we would expect closely related species to be living close together geographically (figure 1). In some cases this is what we do find. On the Galápagos Islands, for example, there are similar species of finches, and, on the Hawaiian Islands, similar species of fruit flies and snails.
However, this distribution of animals is also what we would expect following the Genesis Flood. Birds would have dispersed from the Middle East (where the Ark landed) with some eventually settling on the Galápagos Islands. Subsequent variation and natural selection among the descendants of these finches would then have occurred because they had the inbuilt genetic capacity to change quickly, so as to adapt to different environments—something that seems to be a biological design feature. The same thing would have happened with the first fruit flies and snails to reach the Hawaiian Islands (perhaps on drifting log mats). These would also have diversified as they adapted to the different conditions.
However, similar plants and animals are frequently found on different continents, separated by large stretches of land or ocean. This pattern is not what you would expect if they slowly evolved over millions of years, but is consistent with the biblical account of creation and the global Flood. For example, many similar plant and animal groups are found around the land bordering oceans. This is such a consistent pattern that migration and transportation seems a much better explanation for biogeography than evolution.2
These widely separated populations are so common that they have been given a name—disjunct distributions.
Evolutionists sometimes try to explain disjunct distributions by continental drift. They say that the continents split apart millions of years ago, and when they did, similar species of plants and animals that once lived side by side were separated (figure 1). This is the explanation given, for example, as to why chironomid midges, which are like small flies, or gnats, are found in Antarctica, Southern Australia, South America, New Zealand and South Africa.3
One problem with this explanation is that, according to evolutionary theory, many species that are disjunct across previously-joined continents evolved after their separation.4,5 For example, South America and Africa allegedly separated around 100 million years ago, but species of cactus, which supposedly evolved in South America around 30 million years ago, are also found in Africa. In the same way, the evolutionary accounts of the emergence of rodents found in South America and Africa do not fit the generally accepted timing of continental drift.6 Many other puzzling disjunctions across these continents are known, such as those of cichlid fish, which are freshwater species.7
Another problem is that disjunct species are frequently found on continents that were never joined together. For example, many plants and insects are known to be disjunct across the Pacific Ocean.8,9 The distribution of the plant genus, Clethra, shown in figure 2, is a case in point. Interestingly, the opossum, Dromiciops, found in Chile, is much closer to Australian marsupials than to other South American marsupials.10
Other biogeographic anomalies abound that do not fit the expected evolutionary pattern. For example, the animal species of central and southern Africa are closer to those of southern Asia than those of northern Africa.11 The plants found in Madagascar are remarkably similar to those of Indonesia.12 Crowberries (Empetrum) are found only in the more northern regions of the northern hemisphere and in the most southern regions of the southern hemisphere.
Significant disjunctions are also found in the fossil record. For example, many similar plant fossils are found in western North America and eastern Asia but, according to the ancient earth geologists’ account of slow continental drift, these rocks were laid down when Alaska and Russia were still thousands of kilometres apart.13
While living marsupials14 are largely restricted to Australia and South America (opossums), their fossils from rocks classified as Late Cretaceous (supposedly between 85 and 65 million years old) are found exclusively in Europe, Asia and North America. Richard Cifelli, an associate professor in the Department of Zoology at Oklahoma University said, “this geographical switch remains unexplained.”15 Interestingly, fossil marsupials have now been found on every continent.16,17
According to evolutionary theory, placental animals (such as rabbits, elephants and cats18) evolved in the northern hemisphere and did not appear in Australia until around 5 million years ago. However, a recent discovery of what appears to be a placental fossil in Australia, in rocks supposedly 120 million years old, has caused some evolutionists to suggest that placentals might have evolved first in the southern hemisphere, migrated north, and then become extinct in the southern continents!19
So, when we look at the biogeographical distribution of plants and animals in detail, we find it is not “just what you would expect if evolution had happened”. Rather, to explain the surprising distributions that are uncovered, evolutionary scientists are constantly inventing secondary ad hoc stories.
On the other hand, the distribution of plants and animals is consistent with the Bible’s account of Earth history. According to this, the entire land-based biosphere of the original world (all except for that on board the Ark) was uprooted and destroyed in the global Flood. After the waters receded, the surviving air-breathing, land-dwelling animals disembarked from the Ark in the Middle East and slowly dispersed to where they are found today. Some of these, and other animals not on the Ark, such as insects and snails, together with the land plants, were likely dispersed on natural rafts—massive floating log mats left over from the destruction of the world’s original forests. Research reported in Journal of Creation is consistently confirming that this as a good explanation.20
References and notes
- Zwartz, B., Dawkins delivers the sermon they came to hear, The Age (Melbourne), 15 March 2010; www.theage.com.au. Return to text.
- See: Statham, D., Biogeography, Journal of Creation 24(1):82–87, 2010. Return to text.
- Ridley, M., Evolution, ch. 17, Blackwell Science, Oxford, UK, 3rd edition, 2004. Return to text.
- George, W. and Lavocat, R., The Africa–South America Connection, p. 159, Clarendon Press, Oxford, UK, 1993. Return to text.
- Davis, C., et al., High-latitude tertiary migrations of an exclusively tropical clade: evidence from Malpighiaceae, International Journal of Plant Sciences 165(4 Suppl.):S107–S121, 2004; www.people.fas.harvard.edu/~ccdavis/pdfs/Davis_et_al_IJPS_2004.pdf. Return to text.
- Ref. 4, ch. 9. Return to text.
- Ref. 4, p. 159. Return to text.
- Thorne, R., Major disjunctions in the geographic ranges of seed plants, The Quarterly Review of Biology, 47(4):365–411, 1972. Return to text.
- Buffalo Museum of Science (New York), Panbiogeography—Pacific Basin tracks; www.sciencebuff.org/pacific_basin_tracks.php. Return to text.
- Allaby, M., Dromiciopsia, A Dictionary of Zoology, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1999; www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1O8-Dromiciopsia.html. Return to text.
- Beck, W., et al., Life: An Introduction to Biology, p. 1324, HarperCollins, New York, USA, 3rd ed., 1991. Return to text.
- Schatz, G., Malagasy/Indo-Australo-Malesian phytogeographic connections, in: Lourenço, W.R. (ed.), Biogeography of Madagascar, Editions ORSTOM, Paris, 1996; www.mobot.org/mobot/madagasc/biomad1.html. Return to text.
- Smiley, C., Pre-Tertiary phytogeography and continental drift—some apparent discrepancies, in: Gray, J. and Boucot, A., eds, Historical Biogeography, Plate Tectonics and the Changing Environment, pp. 311–319, Oregon State University Press, Corvallis, USA, 1976. Return to text.
- Marsupials differ from other mammals in the female having a pouch in which she carries her young through early infancy. Return to text.
- Cifelli, R. and Davis, B., Marsupial origins, Science 302:1899–1900, 2003. Return to text.
- Quantum, Australian Broadcasting Commission, 6 November 1991, cited in: ‘Nebraska mouse’ excites some, Creation 14(2):5–8, 1992. Return to text.
- Gish, D., Evolution: The Fossils Still Say No! pp. 178–183, Institute for Creation Research, USA, 1995. Return to text.
- One of the ways placental animals are distinguished from other mammals is that their young stay inside the body until fully developed. Return to text.
- Tim Flannery, Forum: A hostile land—Could one tiny fossil overthrow Australia’s orthodoxy? New Scientist 2116:47, 1998. Return to text.
- See Ref. 2. Return to text.
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