Two Million Years
At the outset, the ecosystems of Hearth were simple and unspecialized, poor imitations of the natural networks that occur as the result of evolution. These ecosystems, though inhabited by animals poorly adapted to their positions within these rough-hewn food webs, came eventually to define the future of life on this new world.
The relationships that established themselves within the first few generations were those that would become entrenched by selection, locking tentative predator and naïve prey into an arms race that will persist for the entire span of life’s time on Hearth.
It’s now two million years after the beginning, and the large packs of squabbling dogs have given way to confident hunters with well organized hierarchies. While evolution has had little time to drastically change the shape of these predators there are signs that the steady march of change has begun in earnest here.
Greyhound-like quickdogs sprint after the long-legged collared sheep, so named for the fact that their coarse, thick wool is longest around their necks. The forms of both are more elegant than those of their ancestors. The quickdogs, lean and lithe, represent the specialization that occurs as life grows into vacant niches; well adapted to hunting prey like the collared sheep, they no longer pose any threat at all to the much larger, more robust descendants of the cattle introduced here long ago. Those animals, with prouder ornamentation on their heads than their ancestors, are called crowned cows; they are prey for the stocky strongdogs, sporting stout snouts and sturdy jaws. Too slow to effectively hunt collared sheep and other similar prey animals, these dogs will only become further specialized for hunting large prey as natural selection forces them and their quicker cousins into separate niches.
Cats have changed even less than dogs even two million years hence, content to pursue their prey through the undergrowth of the now ancient forests. Their size at the time of colonization ensured that they could only hunt small prey, such as mice, rabbits, and chickens. For now, these cats flourish in the branches of the apple tree forests that are still spreading across Hearth, leaping gleefully after airhens, chickens far more skilled in the air than their ancestors who were driven to reconquer the skies by the constant threat of predation on the ground. Other chickens proved harder to motivate and became truly flightless, discouraging predation by cats through becoming larger, and quicker over land. Their wings having considerably atrophied over the course of two million years, these birds have gambled that speed and size will allow them to succeed; they have reached the point two million years hence where it is unlikely that they will be able to redevelop flight, especially as the various species of airhen grow more and more confident in the sky.
The freshwater rivers and lakes of Hearth are now no longer the only place where goldfish can be found thriving. Those hardiest and most daring of their ancient ancestors who braved the brackish waters of estuaries and river mouths have given rise to truly marine fish who, in a reprise of the events two million years ago, now explode in numbers and diversity. Predatory goldcarp, often still adorned with the vibrant colours of their ancestors, plunge into teeming schools of shimmering shoalfish, these fish adapting their gold scales into a maelstrom in an attempt to confuse their predators. The fish in the rivers and lakes themselves, the earliest territory conquered by the settler goldfish, are characterized by predators and prey both murky coloured, having found darker, dull scales better suited to their endless dance of ambush and escape in Hearth’s freshwater ecosystems.