- 1 decade agoFavorite Answer
The panda bear has no thumbs. Rather, it has ten fingers and a
fleshy lump on the side of each hand. It uses these lumps as
opposing digits to grip its meals. These ‘thumbs’ are not very good
at their jobs. The panda would do much better if it had real thumbs,
with bones and joints. The problem is, some quirk of evolution has
never given the panda this option. Its ‘fifth fingers’ are loafing
about on the end of each hand, while a poor cousin does their dirty
work. Why hasn’t evolution forced the lazy fingers to locate
themselves more efficiently? The answer is the Panda Principle.
Ecologist Stephen Jay Gould, who identified the concept,6 argues
that the ‘survival of the fittest’ is not a universal principle. An
inefficient organism (or a part of it) can survive if it can prevent
competing organisms gaining access to key resources. His
favourite analogy is the QWERTY keyboard – the one we all use.
This was designed to slow typists to prevent the jamming of
mechanical typewriters. A faster keyboard has been designed –
the Dvorak. But can it gain a foothold? Not while the QWERTY
board hogs all the resources (such as manufacturing and
distribution systems and our training).
Isn’t it odd that we know of a better way but will not implement it?
What other inefficient systems are in operation because they were
‘first’ and currently hog the resources? Before you get too excited,
ask whether is it ‘right’ to remove these inefficiencies. Consider
that the Panda Principle applies to New Zealand’s fauna.
Introduced animals that gained access to resources so much more
effectively than the locals caused numerous extinctions. The trick
is, an ecosystem can operate very happily at a local optimum.
Bring in a new set of creatures that operate at, perhaps, a global
optimum (mice are globally more effective than our local weta),
and look at what gets lost.