Portal:Evolutionary biology

The Evolutionary Biology Portal

Introduction

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Evolutionary biology is the subfield of biology that studies the evolutionary processes (natural selection, common descent, speciation) that produced the diversity of life on Earth. In the 1930s, the discipline of evolutionary biology emerged through what Julian Huxley called the modern synthesis of understanding, from previously unrelated fields of biological research, such as genetics and ecology, systematics and paleontology.

The investigational range of current research widened to encompass the genetic architecture of adaptation, molecular evolution, and the different forces that contribute to evolution, such as sexual selection, genetic drift, and biogeography. Moreover, the newer field of evolutionary developmental biology ("evo-devo") investigates how embryogenesis, the development of the embryo, is controlled, thus yielding a wider synthesis that integrates developmental biology with the fields of study covered by the earlier evolutionary synthesis.

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Painting of Hugo de Vries, making a painting of an evening primrose, the plant which had apparently produced new forms by large mutations in his experiments, by Thérèse Schwartze, 1918

Mutationism is one of several alternatives to evolution by natural selection that have existed both before and after the publication of Charles Darwin's 1859 book, On the Origin of Species. In the theory, mutation was the source of novelty, creating new forms and new species, potentially instantaneously, in sudden jumps. This was envisaged as driving evolution, which was thought to be limited by the supply of mutations.

Before Darwin, biologists commonly believed in saltationism, the possibility of large evolutionary jumps, including immediate speciation. For example, in 1822 Étienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire argued that species could be formed by sudden transformations, or what would later be called macromutation. Darwin opposed saltation, insisting on gradualism in evolution as in geology (uniformitarianism). In 1864, Albert von Kölliker revived Geoffroy's theory. In 1901 the geneticist Hugo de Vries gave the name "mutation" to seemingly new forms that suddenly arose in his experiments on the evening primrose Oenothera lamarckiana, and in the first decade of the 20th century, mutationism, or as de Vries named it mutationstheorie, became a rival to Darwinism supported for a while by geneticists including William Bateson, Thomas Hunt Morgan, and Reginald Punnett. Read more...

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Tyrannosaurus rex
Credit: Commons:User:David Monniaux

Tyrannosaurus rex skull at Palais de la Découverte in Paris.

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  • ...that adaptations enable living organisms to cope with environmental stresses and pressures?
  • ...that maintained gene flow between two populations can also lead to a combination of the two gene pools, reducing the genetic variation between the two groups?
  • ...that all forms of natural speciation have taken place over the course of evolution, though it still remains a subject of debate as to the relative importance of each mechanism in driving biodiversity?
  • ...that despite the relative rarity of suitable conditions for fossilization, approximately 250,000 fossil species are known?
  • ...that genetic sequence evidence thus allows inference and quantification of genetic relatedness between humans and other apes?

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