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The Evolutionary Biology Portal

Introduction

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Evolutionary biology is the subfield of biology that studies the evolutionary processes that produced the diversity of life on Earth, starting from a single common ancestor. These processes include natural selection, common descent, and speciation.

The discipline emerged through what Julian Huxley called the modern synthesis (of the 1930s) of understanding from several previously unrelated fields of biological research, including genetics, ecology, systematics, and paleontology.

Current research has widened to cover the genetic architecture of adaptation, molecular evolution, and the different forces that contribute to evolution including sexual selection, genetic drift and biogeography. The newer field of evolutionary developmental biology ("evo-devo") investigates how embryonic development is controlled, thus creating a wider synthesis that integrates developmental biology with the fields covered by the earlier evolutionary synthesis.

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Speciation is the evolutionary process by which populations evolve to become distinct species. The biologist Orator F. Cook coined the term in 1906 for cladogenesis, the splitting of lineages, as opposed to anagenesis, phyletic evolution within lineages. Charles Darwin was the first to describe the role of natural selection in speciation in his 1859 book On the Origin of Species. He also identified sexual selection as a likely mechanism, but found it problematic.

There are four geographic modes of speciation in nature, based on the extent to which speciating populations are isolated from one another: allopatric, peripatric, parapatric, and sympatric. Speciation may also be induced artificially, through animal husbandry, agriculture, or laboratory experiments. Whether genetic drift is a minor or major contributor to speciation is the subject matter of much ongoing discussion. Read more...

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Thylacine
Credit: Matilda

The last known Thylacine photographed at Hobart (formerly Beaumaris) Zoo in 1933. A scrotal sac is not visible in this or any other of the photos or film taken, leading to the supposition that "Benjamin" was a female, but the existence of a scrotal pouch in the Thylacine makes it impossible to be certain

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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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