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By the end of this section, you will be able to:
  • Explain sources of evidence for evolution
  • Define homologous and vestigial structures

The evidence for evolution is compelling and extensive. Looking at every level of organization in living systems, biologists see the signature of past and present evolution. Darwin dedicated a large portion of his book, On the Origin of Species , identifying patterns in nature that were consistent with evolution and since Darwin our understanding has become clearer and broader.


Fossils provide solid evidence that organisms from the past are not the same as those found today; fossils show a progression of evolution. Scientists determine the age of fossils and categorize them all over the world to determine when the organisms lived relative to each other. The resulting fossil record tells the story of the past, and shows the evolution of form over millions of years ( [link] ). For example, highly detailed fossil records have been recovered for sequences of species in the evolution of whales and modern horses. The fossil record of horses in North America is especially rich and many contain transition fossils: those showing intermediate anatomy between earlier and later forms. The fossil record extends back to a dog-like ancestor some 55 million years ago that gave rise to the first horse-like species 55 to 42 million years ago in the genus Eohippus . The series of fossils tracks the change in anatomy resulting from a gradual drying trend that changed the landscape from a forested one to a prairie. Successive fossils show the evolution of teeth shapes and foot and leg anatomy to a grazing habit, with adaptations for escaping predators, for example in species of Mesohippus found from 40 to 30 million years ago. Later species showed gains in size, such as those of Hipparion , which existed from about 23 to 2 million years ago.

A series of paintings on a timeline from 55 million years ago to today showing 4 of the ancestors to the modern horse. The first in the series is Eohippus, which lived from 55 to 45 million years ago. It was a small, dog-sized, animal with 4 toes on the front feet and 3 on the back, a long tail, and a brown spotted coat. The second is Mesohippus, which lived from 40 to 30 million years ago. It was slightly larger than Eohippus with longer legs. It had 3 toes on the front and back feet. The third is Hipparion, which lived from 23 to 2 million years ago. It walked on its middle toe on each foot (now a hoof), but it still had vestiges of the remaining toes. It was much larger than Hipparion. The fourth is Przewalski’s horse, a recent but endangered horse. It is smaller and stockier than the domesticated horse with one toe (hoof) on each foot.
This illustration shows an artist’s renderings of these species derived from fossils of the evolutionary history of the horse and its ancestors. The species depicted are only four from a very diverse lineage that contains many branches, dead ends, and adaptive radiations. One of the trends, depicted here is the evolutionary tracking of a drying climate and increase in prairie versus forest habitat reflected in forms that are more adapted to grazing and predator escape through running. Przewalski's horse is one of a few living species of horse.

Anatomy and embryology

Another type of evidence for evolution is the presence of structures in organisms that share the same basic form. For example, the bones in the appendages of a human, dog, bird, and whale all share the same overall construction ( [link] ). That similarity results from their origin in the appendages of a common ancestor. Over time, evolution led to changes in the shapes and sizes of these bones in different species, but they have maintained the same overall layout, evidence of descent from a common ancestor. Scientists call these synonymous parts homologous structures. Some structures exist in organisms that have no apparent function at all, and appear to be residual parts from a past ancestor. For example, some snakes have pelvic bones despite having no legs because they descended from reptiles that did have legs. These unused structures without function are called vestigial structures . Other examples of vestigial structures are wings on flightless birds (which may have other functions), leaves on some cacti, traces of pelvic bones in whales, and the sightless eyes of cave animals.

Questions & Answers

anyone know any internet site where one can find nanotechnology papers?
Damian Reply
Introduction about quantum dots in nanotechnology
Praveena Reply
what does nano mean?
Anassong Reply
nano basically means 10^(-9). nanometer is a unit to measure length.
do you think it's worthwhile in the long term to study the effects and possibilities of nanotechnology on viral treatment?
Damian Reply
absolutely yes
how to know photocatalytic properties of tio2 nanoparticles...what to do now
Akash Reply
it is a goid question and i want to know the answer as well
characteristics of micro business
for teaching engĺish at school how nano technology help us
Do somebody tell me a best nano engineering book for beginners?
s. Reply
there is no specific books for beginners but there is book called principle of nanotechnology
what is fullerene does it is used to make bukky balls
Devang Reply
are you nano engineer ?
fullerene is a bucky ball aka Carbon 60 molecule. It was name by the architect Fuller. He design the geodesic dome. it resembles a soccer ball.
what is the actual application of fullerenes nowadays?
That is a great question Damian. best way to answer that question is to Google it. there are hundreds of applications for buck minister fullerenes, from medical to aerospace. you can also find plenty of research papers that will give you great detail on the potential applications of fullerenes.
what is the Synthesis, properties,and applications of carbon nano chemistry
Abhijith Reply
Mostly, they use nano carbon for electronics and for materials to be strengthened.
is Bucky paper clear?
carbon nanotubes has various application in fuel cells membrane, current research on cancer drug,and in electronics MEMS and NEMS etc
so some one know about replacing silicon atom with phosphorous in semiconductors device?
s. Reply
Yeah, it is a pain to say the least. You basically have to heat the substarte up to around 1000 degrees celcius then pass phosphene gas over top of it, which is explosive and toxic by the way, under very low pressure.
Do you know which machine is used to that process?
how to fabricate graphene ink ?
for screen printed electrodes ?
What is lattice structure?
s. Reply
of graphene you mean?
or in general
in general
Graphene has a hexagonal structure
On having this app for quite a bit time, Haven't realised there's a chat room in it.
what is biological synthesis of nanoparticles
Sanket Reply
what's the easiest and fastest way to the synthesize AgNP?
Damian Reply
types of nano material
abeetha Reply
I start with an easy one. carbon nanotubes woven into a long filament like a string
many many of nanotubes
what is the k.e before it land
what is the function of carbon nanotubes?
I'm interested in nanotube
what is nanomaterials​ and their applications of sensors.
Ramkumar Reply
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Source:  OpenStax, Environmental biology. OpenStax CNX. Aug 10, 2015 Download for free at https://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11863/1.1
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