Evolution Starts With a Big Tree
Evolution began long before 19th-century English naturalist Charles Darwin published his masterpiece On the Origin of Species. Indeed, Anaximander of Miletus wrote ancient Greek philosophical works depicting its concept.
Darwin proposed a scientific explanation for this change; he called it natural selection, which holds that individuals with beneficial traits tend to survive and reproduce more, making those traits increasingly prevalent within populations over time.
Adaptation refers to any heritable trait that helps an organism adapt better to its environment and survive and reproduce more successfully, whether external (like an animal’s tail that aids balance), internal (such as a protein that functions effectively at body temperature), or both. Adaptation occurs due to natural selection acting upon heritable variation over multiple generations.
As part of this process, differing individuals compete for resources within an obstructed environment. The individual who best adapts to their environment prevails and passes on their genes to their offspring; over time, those genetically superior offspring become a more significant proportion of the population, eventually altering overall gene pools gradually and leading to the survival of the fittest.
Darwin developed his theory of evolution on natural selection and survival of the fittest, explaining that species differed by colors, shapes, and sizes due to environmental pressures causing competition for resources. As certain traits become favored within a population, differences among species will eventually disappear altogether.
Empedocles and Aristotle first introduced the concept of the fittest species as proposed by Charles Darwin’s book On the Origin of Species using Natural Selection in 1780. Since then, scientists have continued exploring the theory that organisms adapt through natural selection.
Evolutionary theory rests upon natural selection and adaptation, although other ideas have also been put forth. Some believe organisms were created through intelligent design or random chance; however, scientific consensus generally holds that evolution occurs through natural selection and genetic mutation.
Finding out whether a specific feature is an adaptation can often be challenging. Various factors must be considered, including an organism’s ability to fulfill its biological function, underlying physiological processes, the presence or absence of competing features, and historical context. Sutures found on young mammals’ skulls have often been taken as indications that an adaptation exists – for instance, parturition aid – although they could also relate to physiological processes like oxygen loss.
Natural selection, the primary mechanism by which scientists believe evolution occurs, causes individuals within a population to adapt more effectively to the environments in which they reside. Over time, differences between individuals become heritable, creating differences contributing to today’s impressive diversity of life on Earth. Scientists refer to this natural process as evolution itself.
Traits are the inherited characteristics of an individual and can be affected by various environmental and biotic influences, including predators or competitors in its environment, food availability, and shelter availability. Individuals exhibiting traits that make them well-adapted to their environment tend to produce more offspring over generations due to a dominance effect; traits with beneficial outcomes tend to become more prominent, while less well-adapted ones become less frequently seen amongst populations over time.
Charles Darwin first introduced natural selection as a mechanism for species development over time in his 1859 book On the Origin of Species. While primary forms had already been popularly circulated, Darwin provided the first detailed exposition and application of this process in writings that popularized “survival of the fittest.” Although Darwin himself never used these terms directly, his writings popularized them widely through “survival of the fittest.”
Not to be misunderstood, natural selection does not always lead to the creation of more species. For an organism to qualify as a new species, it must share certain heritable traits with earlier members of their group and be capable of breeding together and reproducing fertile offspring, creating a genetically distinct group.
Therefore, new species generally arise through branching from pre-existing, genetically similar groups of organisms that had existed before evolution. Repetitive branching events produce the multi-level “tree” now recognized as an evolutionary model. As with many complex scientific theories, natural selection often leaves its followers confused or misperceptions; for instance, some view it as an event instead of an ongoing process with specific goals (Ferrari and Chi 1998).
Genetics studies heredity and how particular qualities or traits are passed from generation to generation. Genetics is an integral component of evolutionary science as it sheds light on how organisms adapt and evolve. Genetics originates in the experiments conducted by Gregor Mendel, who discovered discrete units inherited as inheritance; his work contributed significantly to our current understanding of heredity. This discovery ultimately led to genetics becoming an academic field from which we learned how genes and heredity influence life’s development and evolution.
At the dawn of what would later become evolution, many scientists believed adaptation came about via natural selection acting upon individuals in an organism’s population, i.e., those that possessed advantageous traits being more likely to survive and reproduce more frequently – thus passing these beneficial traits down through generations – ultimately leading to gradual changes across an entire population over time.
Unfortunately, this theory, often known as the “survival of the fittest,” poses several significant difficulties. First, it places too much emphasis on survival – an essential factor but not the sole determining factor of biological fitness. Traits that help organisms produce more offspring have equal value in driving evolution forward despite necessitating an increase in individual longevity.
The theory also fails to account that most species exhibit cooperative rather than competitive social behavior, making cooperation just as essential to species evolution as competition. Furthermore, it does not recognize that an organism may utilize multiple competing strategies simultaneously.
Importantly, evolution as an idea describes a process, not an endpoint. This process relies on random mutations and environmental conditions shaped by natural selection to shape development and does not have anything to do with whether God exists or doesn’t exist.
Evolution of life refers to how living things adapt to environmental or evolutionary pressures or through natural selection (where organisms with desirable traits reproduce more efficiently than those without), leading to new species emerging over time.
Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace first introduced the theory of evolution during their respective research on various species on the Galapagos Islands. Both scientists independently observed differences among different finch species on the Galapagos and reached similar conclusions: over time, natural selection caused living things to mutate and develop unique characteristics; these changes can then be traced back to a common ancestor.
Scientists have used fossils and the behavior of living organisms as indicators of past changes to life on Earth. Since the 1930s, genetic knowledge has enabled scientists to explain evolutionary change through genetic studies, strengthening the scientific consensus that humans evolved from ape-like ancestors.
At approximately two billion years ago, simple cells evolved into more complex ones, becoming equipped with internal “organelles” known as mitochondria that provided energy to cells; fossils of such organelles have been discovered in rock samples. Around this time, other fossils revealed some bacteria had devoured other bacteria through endosymbiosis, leading to eukaryotic cells’ appearance.
At roughly the same time, chordates — animals with backbones — begin their evolution from deuterostomes. Later on, however, surprise cousins emerge: sea squirts (tunicates). These bottom-dwelling filter feeders resemble tadpoles in appearance and share an ancestor with chordates and vertebrates.
As eukaryotic cells spread across the world’s oceans and other habitats, other evolutionary changes occurred as their cells spread. Some of these changes altered animal feeding behavior – for instance, mutations to lactase genes made it more difficult for specific populations to digest milk.