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Speculative biology, or speculative evolution, is a term that refers to a very hypothetical field of science that makes predictions and hypotheses on the evolution of life in a wide variety of scenarios and is also a form of fiction to an extent. It uses scientific principles and laws and applies them to a "what if" question (for instance: "What if the dinosaurs never evolved?"). Since one cannot make a definite prediction of what would happen as a result of any "what if" questions, this topic is highly theoretical and hypothetical and creativity is often used create a speculative world.
As in alternative history, there is generally a point of divergence. The point of divergence is the key change between our history and that of the alternative history. For example, a point of divergence for the "what if" question mentioned earlier would be 66.5 Ma, but in the alternative were they survive. In "future worlds", the point of divergence would actually be the present. In the case of the natural history of alien life, a point of divergence would not essentially exist. The main fields within speculative biology as well as those related to the topic can be found to the right.
The term "speculative biology" originates from Dougal Dixon, a Scottish geologist and author of books on palaeontology and speculative biology. It is the term he uses to refer to the topics of several of his books: After Man: A Zoology of the Future (1981), The New Dinosaurs: An Alternative Evolution (1988), Man After Man: An Anthropology of the Future (1990), and The Future is Wild (2003). Other terms that are used to refer to this field include speculative evolution, speculative zoology, alternative evolution, alternative biology, and hypothetical evolution.
The first book to technically take on the "what if" question so commonly asked in speculative biology was After Man, published in 1981. This book takes a look at what life might be like about 50 million years in the future in a world where man has been extinct for millenia. Although many of the ideas proposed in his book are no longer considered by most to be logical (for example, the infamous brachiating feline known as the striger), Dougal Dixon is often credited with the foundation of speculative biology as well as inspiring many others to take interest in the subject. The New Dinosaurs, Man After Man, and The Future is Wild also relate to this topic and built up interest into the field by introducing even more odd and sometimes even wild scenarios.Peter Ward is the second person to publish their speculative ideas into a book with his Future Evolution (2001). This paleontologist's work differs in several major ways from that of Dougal Dixon. First of all, he believes that humans will exist for a very long time and that their impact will help shape the evolution of the future species of earth. For millions of years, the human population increases causing a 10-million year extinction event. He selects a number of animals that are "champion speciators", those that have the genetic ability to create new species quickly in response to hard times. Some of these species include rodents, snakes, crows, and dandelions.
Despite this, speculations on the future of man and of other life is documented since at least the mid 19th century, when Charles Darwin speculated that a bird with unfused wing fingers would be discovered. A similar speculation was made by Wiliam Beebe in 1915.
In far more recent years, All Yesterdays: Unique and Speculative Views of Dinosaurs and Other Prehistoric Animals was published Irregular Books, an independent writing and publishing group made up of Darren Naish, John Conway, and C. M. Coseman. It focused on how there are many things about life only known from fossils that we cannot know. The main focus of the book was to incourage speculative thought on palaeontology, and to explore new ideas. They would later go to publish All Your Yesterday's: Extroardinary Visions of Prehistoric Life by a New Generation of Palaeoartists, focusing on fan images inspired from All Yesterdays, and an entire section of the book was devoted to the art and speculations of Joschua Knüppe, who has on numerous occasions shown interest in Speculative Biology, notably in his project on dragons, which he presents as flying monitor lizards. Seperate from the All Yesterday's series, Irregular books also published Cryptozoologicon: The Biology, Evolution, and Mythology of Hidden Animals, Volume I. The main focus of the book is the evaluation of the plausibility of the existence of various assorted cryptids, and to promote a new face to Cryptozoology, a scientific one. However, every section, each one devoted to a cryptid, featured three sections, and the third one is a speculative presentation of what these creatures might be like, should they exist, with varying ammounts of seriousness.
On October 2nd, 2013, palaeontologist and Palaeoartist Mark Witton, a friend of Naish and Conway, made a post on his blog that, among various things, seperated "All Yesterday's style" palaeoart into three seperate cateogries. The first is Primary Speculation, which is based directly on fossil data. As he puts it: "Gut content, pathological bones and complex track sites are good examples of evidence which can be used to inspire palaeoart using primary speculation. We may not know the entire truth behind these fossils, but we can whittle it down to a few very likely possibilities. Basic elaboration of predicted integument of an animal - making fluffy integuments long or short, altering distribution and so forth - would be an example of primary speculation on anatomy, as would adding things like wattles, skin-folds and other likely anatomical details to reconstructions.". The second is Secondary Speculations, which fit into a fairly sound a plausible spectrum of our knowledge, but aren't directly supported. The third are Tertiary Speculations, which have no support from any evidence, and often very specific and have low probability rates. Often these fall out of plausibility, and as he describes it, "[Are] Reliant on the absence of data concerning fossil species, because 'anything is possible'.".
Even more recently, a tertiary speculation inspired by All Yesterday's and appearing in All Your Yesterday's, was proven rather correct as a similar species from a new clade was found mathching the speculation perfectly. The original speculation was about ceticarids, Cambrian anomalocarids that used a baleen-like structure to filter feed, and was created by John Meszaros. Vinther et al. (2014) describe new material to the previously known Tamisiocaris, which shows it had the exact structure from Meszados's creature. Accordingly, the new clade it belonged to was named Cetiocaridae, in honour of the creator of Ceticaridae.