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Forces of Evolution

Explains factors that cause allele frequencies to change.

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Forces of Evolution *

How do a population's genes change?

Remember, without change, there cannot be evolution. Together, the forces that change a population's gene frequencies are the driving mechanisms behind evolution.


(7)  Science concepts. The student knows evolutionary theory is a scientific explanation for the unity and diversity of life. The student is expected to:

(A)  Analyze and evaluate how evidence of common ancestry among groups is provided by the fossil record, biogeography, and homologies, including anatomical, molecular, and developmental.

(B)  Analyze and evaluate scientific explanations concerning any data of sudden appearance, stasis, and sequential nature of groups in the fossil record.

(C)  Analyze and evaluate how natural selection produces change in populations, not individuals.

(D)  Analyze and evaluate how the elements of natural selection, including inherited variation, the potential of a population to produce more offspring than can survive, and a finite supply of environmental resources, result in differential reproductive success.

(E)  Analyze and evaluate the relationship of natural selection to adaptation and to the development of diversity in and among species.

Lesson Objectives

  • Students will learn the difference between gene drift and gene flow.
  • Students will learn the importance of mutations in evolution.
  • Students will learn about the bottle neck  and the founders effect on populations.

Forces of Evolution

The conditions for Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium are unlikely to be met in real populations. The Hardy-Weinberg theorem also describes populations in which allele frequencies are not changing. By definition, such populations are not evolving. How does the theorem help us understand evolution in the real world?

The following video explains the Hardy-Weinberg Equation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oEBNom3K9cQ.

From the theorem, we can infer factors that cause allele frequencies to change. These factors are the "forces of evolution." There are four such forces: mutation, gene flow, genetic drift, and natural selection. Natural selection will be discussed in the "Natural Selection" concept.


Mutation creates new genetic variation in a gene pool. It is how all new alleles first arise. In sexually reproducing species, the mutations that matter for evolution are those that occur in gametes. Only these mutations can be passed to offspring. For any given gene, the chance of a mutation occurring in a given gamete is very low. Thus, mutations alone do not have much effect on allele frequencies. However, mutations provide the genetic variation needed for other forces of evolution to act.

Gene Flow

Gene flow occurs when individuals move into or out of a population. If the rate of migration is high, this can have a significant effect on allele frequencies. The allele frequencies of both the population they leave and the population they enter may change.

During the Vietnam War in the 1960s and 1970s, many American servicemen had children with Vietnamese women. Most of the servicemen returned to the United States after the war. However, they left copies of their genes behind in their offspring. In this way, they changed the allele frequencies in the Vietnamese gene pool. Was the gene pool of the American population also affected? Why or why not?

Genetic Drift

Genetic drift is a random change in allele frequencies that occurs in a small population. When a small number of parents produce just a few offspring, allele frequencies in the offspring may differ, by chance, from allele frequencies in the parents.

The following video refers to Genetic Drift: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mjQ_yN5znyk.

This is like tossing a coin. If you toss a coin just a few times, you may, by chance, get more or less than the expected 50 percent heads or tails. In a small population, you may also, by chance, get different allele frequencies than expected in the next generation. In this way, allele frequencies may drift over time.

There are two special conditions under which genetic drift occurs. They are called bottleneck effect and founder effect.

  1. Bottleneck effect occurs when a population suddenly gets much smaller. This might happen because of a natural disaster such as a forest fire. By chance, allele frequencies of the survivors may be different from those of the original population.
  2. Founder effect occurs when a few individuals start, or found, a new population. By chance, allele frequencies of the founders may be different from allele frequencies of the population they left. An example is described in the Figure below.

Founder Effect in the Amish Population. The Amish population in the U.S. and Canada had a small number of founders. How has this affected the Amish gene pool?

The following video explains the evolution of population: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WhFKPaRnTdQ&list=PLp3IDnQB_fSHW9_a5ylStNjUnlVNy5F7E


  • There are four forces of evolution: mutation, gene flow, genetic drift, and natural selection.
  • Mutation creates new genetic variation in a gene pool.
  • Gene flow and genetic drift alter allele frequencies in a gene pool.


Use this resource to answer the questions that follow.

  • (Resource under construction) http://www.hippocampus.org/Biology Biology for AP* Search: The Process of Genetic Change
  1. What drives evolution?
  2. Describe genetic drift.
  3. Distinguish between the bottleneck effect and the founder effect.
  4. What is gene flow?
  5. What is meant by nonrandom mating?
  6. Why may inbreeding be dangerous?
  7. Describe sexual selection.
  8. Describe natural selection.


  1. Identify the four forces of evolution.
  2. Why is mutation needed for evolution to occur, even though it usually has little effect on allele frequencies?
  3. What is founder effect? Give an example.
  4. Explain why genetic drift is most likely to occur in a small population.

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