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10.4: Macroevolution and the Origin of Species

Created by: CK-12

Lesson Objectives

  • Describe two ways that new species may originate.
  • Define coevolution, and give an example.
  • Distinguish between gradualism and punctuated equilibrium.

Vocabulary

allopatric speciation
evolution of a new species that occurs when some members of an original species become geographically separated from the rest of the species
coevolution
process in which two interacting species evolve together, with each species influencing the other’s evolution
gradualism
model of the timing of evolution in which evolutionary change occurs at a slow and steady pace
punctuated equilibrium
model of the timing of evolution in which long periods of little evolutionary change are interrupted by bursts of rapid evolutionary change
speciation
process by which a new species evolves
sympatric speciation
evolution of a new species that occurs when without geographic separation first occurring between members of an original species

Introduction

Macroevolution is evolution over geologic time above the level of the species. One of the main topics in macroevolution is how new species arise. The process by which a new species evolves is called speciation. How does speciation occur? How does one species evolve into two or more new species?

Origin of Species

To understand how a new species forms, it’s important to review what a species is. A species is a group of organisms that can breed and produce fertile offspring together in nature. For a new species to arise, some members of a species must become reproductively isolated from the rest of the species. This means they can no longer interbreed with other members of the species. How does this happen? Usually they become geographically isolated first.

Allopatric Speciation

Assume that some members of a species become geographically separated from the rest of the species. If they remain separated long enough, they may evolve genetic differences. If the differences prevent them from interbreeding with members of the original species, they have evolved into a new species. Speciation that occurs in this way is called allopatric speciation. An example is described in Figure below.

Allopatric Speciation in the Kaibab Squirrel. The Kaibab squirrel is in the process of becoming a new species.

Sympatric Speciation

Less often, a new species arises without geographic separation. This is called sympatric speciation. The following example shows one way this can occur.

  1. Hawthorn flies lay eggs in hawthorn trees (see Figure below). The eggs hatch into larvae that feed on hawthorn fruits. Both the flies and trees are native to the U.S.
  2. Apple trees were introduced to the U.S. and often grow near hawthorn trees. Some hawthorn flies started to lay eggs in nearby apple trees. When the eggs hatched, the larvae fed on apples.
  3. Over time, the two fly populations—those that fed on hawthorn trees and those that preferred apple trees—evolved reproductive isolation. Now they are reproductively isolated because they breed at different times. Their breeding season matches the season when the apple or hawthorn fruits mature.
  4. Because they rarely interbreed, the two populations of flies are evolving other genetic differences. They appear to be in the process of becoming separate species.

Sympatric Speciation in Hawthorn Flies. Hawthorn flies are diverging from one species into two. As this example shows, behaviors as well as physical traits may evolve and lead to speciation.

Isolating mechanisms are discussed in the following video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-e64TfKeAXU (2:57).

Coevolution

Evolution occurs in response to a change in the environment. Environmental change often involves other species of organisms. In fact, species in symbiotic relationships tend to evolve together. This is called coevolution. As one species changes, the other species must also change in order to adapt.

Coevolution occurs in flowering plants and the species that pollinate them. The flower and bird in Figure below are a good example. They have evolved matching structures.

Results of Coevolution in a Flower and Its Pollinator. The very long mouth part of this hummingbird has coevolved with the tubular flower it pollinates. Only this species of bird can reach the nectar deep in the flower. What might happen to the flower if the bird species went extinct?

Timing of Macroevolution

Is evolution slow and steady? Or does it occur in fits and starts? It may depend on what else is going on, such as changes in climate and geologic conditions.

  • When geologic and climatic conditions are stable, evolution may occur gradually. This is how Darwin thought evolution occurred. This model of the timing of evolution is called gradualism.
  • When geologic and climatic conditions are changing, evolution may occur more quickly. Thus, long periods of little change may be interrupted by bursts of rapid change. This model of the timing of evolution is called punctuated equilibrium. It is better supported by the fossil record than is gradualism.

Lesson Summary

  • New species arise in the process of speciation. Allopatric speciation occurs when some members of a species become geographically separated. They then evolve genetic differences. If the differences prevent them from interbreeding with the original species, a new species has evolved. Sympatric speciation occurs without geographic separation.
  • Coevolution occurs when species evolve together. This often happens in species that have symbiotic relationships. Examples include flowering plants and their pollinators.
  • Darwin thought that evolution occurs gradually. This model of evolution is called gradualism. The fossil record better supports the model of punctuated equilibrium. In this model, long periods of little change are interrupted by bursts of rapid change.

Lesson Review Questions

Recall

1. Define speciation.

2. Describe how allopatric speciation occurs.

3. What is gradualism? When is it most likely to apply?

4. Describe the timing of evolutionary change according to the punctuated equilibrium model.

Apply Concepts

5. Apply the concepts of fitness and natural selection to explain how the insect and flower pictured in Figure above could have evolved their matching structures.

Think Critically

6. Why is sympatric speciation less likely to occur than allopatric speciation?

Points to Consider

You read in this chapter about adaptive radiation on the Galápagos Islands. A single finch species evolved into many new species to fill all available niches. For example, the species evolved adaptations for a variety of food sources.

  • What is a species’ niche? What do you think it might include besides the food a species eats?
  • Niche is a term from ecology. What is ecology? How do you think knowledge of ecology might help scientists understand evolution?

Opening image copyright Daniel Korzeniewski, 2010. Used under license from Shutterstock.com.

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