Evolution in the Cornbelt: How a Few Special Species Are Adapting to Industrial Agriculture

Over the last 150 years, humans have wrought sweeping changes to the Great Plains. What was once the prairie is now the Corn Belt-row crops planted from fencerow to fencerow. What does this mean for the native wildlife, which evolved for millions of years to live only on the prairie? Here are the stories of three species-cliff swallows, western corn rootworms, and prairie deer mice-that natural selection has reshaped to thrive in the new agricultural landscape. With his finches, Charles Darwin read the record of evolution in the past. In the Corn Belt, today’s scientists can see evolution in real time.

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Conor Gearin

About Conor Gearin

Equally at home chasing salamanders and scrambling to meet a news deadline, Conor Gearin grew up in St. Louis, Missouri. One day, his sixth grade science teacher read from Stephen Jay Gould’s book of essays about evolutionary biology, The Panda’s Thumb. This seemed to bore all present except Gearin, who now seeks to follow in Gould’s footsteps, writing with humor and insight about complex science. Magic School Bus was also a formative inspiration. He earned his B.A. in English and B.S. in Biology from Truman State University, and has worked as a biology research assistant at Washington University in St. Louis (poking fish brains with electrodes and listening) and University of Maine-Orono (taking water samples and pursuing the aforementioned amphibians.) He has research experience in ornithology, ecology, neuroscience and environmental chemistry. He applies this knowledge during occasional birdwatching trips. His poetry and watercolor paintings have appeared in Mochila Review, Foliate Oak Literary Magazine and Phizzog Review. He likes listening to and playing Irish music. He misses the weather in St. Petersburg. Follow him on Twitter @ConorGearin. He blogs at conorsnotebook.blogspot.com.

Thesis: Evolution in the Cornbelt: How a Few Special Species Are Adapting to Industrial Agriculture