Biology » Evolution and Origin of Species » Understanding Evolution

Understanding Evolution Summary


Evolution is the process of adaptation through mutation which allows more desirable characteristics to be passed to the next generation. Over time, organisms evolve more characteristics that are beneficial to their survival. For living organisms to adapt and change to environmental pressures, genetic variation must be present. With genetic variation, individuals have differences in form and function that allow some to survive certain conditions better than others. These organisms pass their favorable traits to their offspring. Eventually, environments change, and what was once a desirable, advantageous trait may become an undesirable trait and organisms may further evolve. Evolution may be convergent with similar traits evolving in multiple species or divergent with diverse traits evolving in multiple species that came from a common ancestor. Evidence of evolution can be observed by means of DNA code and the fossil record, and also by the existence of homologous and vestigial structures.



heritable trait or behavior in an organism that aids in its survival and reproduction in its present environment

convergent evolution

process by which groups of organisms independently evolve to similar forms

divergent evolution

process by which groups of organisms evolve in diverse directions from a common point

homologous structures

parallel structures in diverse organisms that have a common ancestor

natural selection

reproduction of individuals with favorable genetic traits that survive environmental change because of those traits, leading to evolutionary change


genetic differences among individuals in a population

vestigial structure

physical structure present in an organism but that has no apparent function and appears to be from a functional structure in a distant ancestor

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