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Evolutionary biology

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Evolutionary biology is a sub-field of biology concerned with the origin and descent of species, as well as their change, multiplication, and diversity over time. Biologically, evolution is the change in the inherited traits of a population from generation to generation. These traits are the expression of genes that are copied and passed on to offspring during reproduction. Mutations in these genes can produce new or altered traits, resulting in heritable differences (genetic variation) between organisms. New traits can also come from transfer of genes between populations, as in migration, or between species, in horizontal gene transfer. Evolution occurs when these heritable differences become more common or rare in a population, either non-randomly through natural selection or randomly through genetic drift.

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Natural selection is the process by which favorable traits that are heritable become more common in successive generations of a population of reproducing organisms, and unfavorable traits that are heritable become less common. Natural selection acts on the phenotype, or the observable characteristics of an organism, such that individuals with favorable phenotypes are more likely to survive and reproduce than those with less favorable phenotypes. If these phenotypes have a genetic basis, then the genotype associated with the favorable phenotype will increase in frequency in the next generation. Over time, this process can result in adaptations that specialize organisms for particular ecological niches and may eventually result in the emergence of new species. Natural selection is one of the cornerstones of modern biology. The term was introduced by Charles Darwin in his groundbreaking 1859 book The Origin of Species in which natural selection was described by analogy to artificial selection, a process by which animals with traits considered desirable by human breeders are systematically favored for reproduction. The concept of natural selection was originally developed in the absence of a valid theory of inheritance; at the time of Darwin's writing, nothing was known of modern genetics.

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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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