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With all the diversity of life past and present, it’s incredible how often evolution repeats itself. Wings, flippers, eyes … all sorts of fascinating features have shown up multiple times in multiple groups of organisms. In this episode, we discuss this very common, curious, and sometimes confusing aspect of natural selection: Convergent Evolution.
In the news
Genetic info reconstructed from proteins in a 1.7-million-year-old rhino tooth.
Baby sea turtle trackways found in South Africa’s Cape South Coast.
A modern sea snake that breathes through a hole in the top of its head.
Theropods may have had special hot-and-cold packs built into their heads.
What is convergence?
Convergent evolution is a side effect of the natural processes of evolution where unrelated species end up resembling one another in behavior or morphology. Though two species may have evolved from very different ancestors, similar selective pressures can lead to them evolving very similar features (for example, birds and bats both evolved from different non-flying ancestors).
This is similar but different from parallel evolution, in which two unrelated but similar evolutionary lineages follow similar evolutionary pathways (for example,. evolving from climbing species to gliding species).
It’s very common to observe convergent evolution in species that occupy similar habitats or niches. Convergent traits are referred to as analogous structures – that is, they are similar, but evolved separately – as opposed to homologous structures, which are shared features inherited from a shared ancestor.
Not just animals!
Though convergent evolution is fascinating, it can be tricky to study and understand at times. There are even those who wonder if these numerous examples of very similar organisms actually makes a case for the limits of evolution.
If you’d like to learn more about how organisms can become so similar through convergence check out some of the link below:
Evolutionary Convergences: The Trend Toward Sameness in Metazoan Evolution
– An excellent source on the concept overall
Tail Weaponry in Ankylosaurs and Glyptodonts
Shocking Differences Between Electric Animals – Electric Eels and Rays
Crocodile fossil shows uncanny convergence with dinosaurs
The remarkable convergence of skull shape in crocodilians and toothed whales
Bats and dolphins may have developed echolocation via similar mutations
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