Posted Friday, December 17, 2021 at 5:36pm
About 136,000 years ago, the island of Aldabra in the Indian Ocean flooded, wiping out the Aldabra rail, the species of flightless bird that lived there. Eventually, dry land reemerged, and the Aldabra’s winged progenitor, the white-throated rail, flew back. And then, over another 20,000 years or so, those birds gradually lost their wings—there are no predators on the island—and the Aldabra rail evolved, independently, all over again. If you’re patient, we’ll explain what this has to do with cars.
When a species evolves twice from the same ancestor, the process is called iterative evolution, and it’s happening right now, in our lifetimes. The species SUVus ponderous—characterized by towering ride height and superfluous off-road ability—evolved from station wagons, was driven nearly to extinction by crossovers, and is now showing evidence of a comeback. By way of proof, we present the 2022 Subaru Forester Wilderness, which traces its lineage to Subaru’s tidy little station wagons from the 1970s but is a couple genetic mutations away from turning into a Toyota 4Runner. If 9.2 inches of ground clearance isn’t evidence for iterative evolution, we don’t know what is.