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Illustration compares a human arm, dog and bird legs and a whale flipper. All appendages have the same bones, but the size and shape of these bones vary.
The similar construction of these appendages indicates that these organisms share a common ancestor.

Concept in action

Click through the activities at this interactive site to guess which bone structures are homologous and which are analogous, and to see examples of all kinds of evolutionary adaptations that illustrate these concepts.

Another evidence of evolution is the convergence of form in organisms that share similar environments. For example, species of unrelated animals, such as the arctic fox and ptarmigan (a bird), living in the arctic region have temporary white coverings during winter to blend with the snow and ice ( [link] ). The similarity occurs not because of common ancestry, indeed one covering is of fur and the other of feathers, but because of similar selection pressures—the benefits of not being seen by predators.

Photo (a) depicts an arctic fox with white fur sleeping on white snow. Photo (b) shows a ptarmigan with white feathers standing on white snow.
The white winter coat of (a) the arctic fox and (b) the ptarmigan’s plumage are adaptations to their environments. (credit a: modification of work by Keith Morehouse)

Embryology, the study of the development of the anatomy of an organism to its adult form also provides evidence of relatedness between now widely divergent groups of organisms. Structures that are absent in some groups often appear in their embryonic forms and disappear by the time the adult or juvenile form is reached. For example, all vertebrate embryos, including humans, exhibit gill slits at some point in their early development. These disappear in the adults of terrestrial groups, but are maintained in adult forms of aquatic groups such as fish and some amphibians. Great ape embryos, including humans, have a tail structure during their development that is lost by the time of birth. The reason embryos of unrelated species are often similar is that mutational changes that affect the organism during embryonic development can cause amplified differences in the adult, even while the embryonic similarities are preserved.


The geographic distribution of organisms on the planet follows patterns that are best explained by evolution in conjunction with the movement of tectonic plates over geological time. Broad groups that evolved before the breakup of the supercontinent Pangaea (about 200 million years ago) are distributed worldwide. Groups that evolved since the breakup appear uniquely in regions of the planet, for example the unique flora and fauna of northern continents that formed from the supercontinent Laurasia and of the southern continents that formed from the supercontinent Gondwana. The presence of Proteaceae in Australia, southern Africa, and South America is best explained by the plant family’s presence there prior to the southern supercontinent Gondwana breaking up ( [link] ).

Map shows the supercontinent Gondwana from 220 million years ago, with South America, Africa, India, Arabia, Antarctica, Australia, New Zealand, New Guinea and parts of southeast Asia in close proximity. A modern day map shows the areas from Gondwana highlighted to show the regions where Proteacea plants are found today. Inset photo shows a Proteacea flower, Banksia spinulosa, a tall spike with many small orange flowers.
The Proteacea family of plants evolved before the supercontinent Gondwana broke up. Today, members of this plant family are found throughout the southern hemisphere (shown in red). (credit “Proteacea flower”: modification of work by “dorofofoto”/Flickr)

The great diversification of the marsupials in Australia and the absence of other mammals reflects that island continent’s long isolation. Australia has an abundance of endemic species—species found nowhere else—which is typical of islands whose isolation by expanses of water prevents migration of species to other regions. Over time, these species diverge evolutionarily into new species that look very different from their ancestors that may exist on the mainland. The marsupials of Australia, the finches on the Galápagos, and many species on the Hawaiian Islands are all found nowhere else but on their island, yet display distant relationships to ancestral species on mainlands.

Molecular biology

Like anatomical structures, the structures of the molecules of life reflect descent with modification. Evidence of a common ancestor for all of life is reflected in the universality of DNA as the genetic material and of the near universality of the genetic code and the machinery of DNA replication and expression. Fundamental divisions in life between the three domains are reflected in major structural differences in otherwise conservative structures such as the components of ribosomes and the structures of membranes. In general, the relatedness of groups of organisms is reflected in the similarity of their DNA sequences—exactly the pattern that would be expected from descent and diversification from a common ancestor.

DNA sequences have also shed light on some of the mechanisms of evolution. For example, it is clear that the evolution of new functions for proteins commonly occurs after gene duplication events. These duplications are a kind of mutation in which an entire gene is added as an extra copy (or many copies) in the genome. These duplications allow the free modification of one copy by mutation, selection, and drift, while the second copy continues to produce a functional protein. This allows the original function for the protein to be kept, while evolutionary forces tweak the copy until it functions in a new way.

Section summary

The evidence for evolution is found at all levels of organization in living things and in the extinct species we know about through fossils. Fossils provide evidence for the evolutionary change through now extinct forms that led to modern species. For example, there is a rich fossil record that shows the evolutionary transitions from horse ancestors to modern horses that document intermediate forms and a gradual adaptation o changing ecosystems. The anatomy of species and the embryological development of that anatomy reveal common structures in divergent lineages that have been modified over time by evolution. The geographical distribution of living species reflects the origins of species in particular geographic locations and the history of continental movements. The structures of molecules, like anatomical structures, reflect the relationships of living species and match patterns of similarity expected from descent with modification.

Questions & Answers

which structure consists of a phospholipid bilayers and it is known as the mosaic model?
Jamar Reply
cell membrane
what is diffusion
Patricia Reply
a passive process of transport
10 difference between male and female reproductive system
Ina Reply
if a phase is omitted ,what will happen to the cell
Ewemoje Reply
discribe advantages and disadvantages of asexual and sexual reproduction
basi Reply
Compared to separate sexes and assuming self-fertilizing is not possible, what might be one advantage and one disadvantage to hermaphroditism?
Gift Reply
is nature of their environment among
cool 😎
why are the laws of thermodynamics considered laws of nature and not scientific theories
Yolonda Reply
archea were given their own separate domain because they are?
which of the following is a basic component of all of the others?
which of the following organization levels is the least inclusive
which cell feature is absent in bacterial cells
which metric movies the base unit of measurement by one thousandth (0.001)?
What is biology?
Blessing Reply
List the branches of biology
List the branches of biology
List the branches of biology
List the branches of biology
must all prokaryotic cells posses a cell wall?
chris Reply
what is biology?
Cathy Reply
biology is basically the study of life
that's true
it's the study of living things
biology is defined as the study of living and nonliving things
Biology is not only the study of life but it is the study of death too.
What is a celiac disease
Falase Reply
distinguish between properties and characteristics
Elee Reply
what are organelles
organelles are substances that makes up a cell
organelles are special features of a cell that perform a specific task
what is biology
Prevail Reply
biology is science that studies life
it's the study of living and non living things
now that we have an estimate for the diameter of the cell.what estimate can we make about the volume of the cell?
faxhood Reply
why too much insulin result in low blood sugar
Leri Reply
For example, too much exercise can cost you to lose to much weight. Too much insulin will pull to much sugar out of your systemic system into your cells.

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Source:  OpenStax, Concepts of biology. OpenStax CNX. Feb 29, 2016 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11487/1.9
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