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Title: Macroevolution  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
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Subject: Evolutionary biology, Biology, Mosaic evolution, Microevolution, Evolutionary developmental biology
Collection: Evolutionary Biology
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia


Macroevolution is evolution on a scale of separated gene pools.[1] Macroevolutionary studies focus on change that occurs at or above the level of species, in contrast with microevolution,[2] which refers to smaller evolutionary changes (typically described as changes in allele frequencies) within a species or population.[3] Macroevolution and microevolution describe fundamentally identical processes on different time scales.[1][4]

The process of speciation may fall within the purview of either, depending on the forces thought to drive it. Paleontology, evolutionary developmental biology, comparative genomics and genomic phylostratigraphy contribute most of the evidence for the patterns and processes that can be classified as macroevolution. An example of macroevolution is the appearance of feathers during the evolution of birds from theropod dinosaurs.

The evolutionary course of Equidae (wide family including all horses and related animals) is often viewed as a typical example of macroevolution. The earliest known genus, Hyracotherium (now reclassified as a palaeothere), was a herbivore animal resembling a dog that lived in the early Cenozoic. As its habitat transformed into an open arid grassland, selective pressure required that the animal become a fast grazer. Thus elongation of legs and head as well as reduction of toes gradually occurred, producing the only extant genus of Equidae, Equus.[5]


  • Origin of the term 1
  • Macroevolution and the modern evolutionary synthesis 2
  • Types of macroevolution 3
  • Research topics 4
  • Misuse 5
  • See also 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8

Origin of the term

Russian entomologist Yuri Filipchenko first coined the terms "macroevolution" and "microevolution" in 1927 in his German language work, "Variabilität und Variation". Since the inception of the two terms, their meanings have been revised several times and the term macroevolution fell into limited disfavour when it was taken over by such writers as the geneticist Richard Goldschmidt (1940) and the paleontologist Otto Schindewolf to describe their orthogenetic theories.[6]

A more practical definition of the term describes it as changes occurring on geological time scales, in contrast to microevolution, which occurs on the timescale of human lifetimes.[7] This definition reflects the spectrum between micro- and macro-evolution, whilst leaving a clear difference between the terms: because the geological record rarely has a resolution better than 10,000 years, and humans rarely live longer than 100 years, "meso-evolution" is never observed.[7]

As a result, apart from Dobzhansky, Bernhard Rensch and Ernst Mayr, very few neo-Darwinian writers used the term, preferring instead to talk of evolution as changes in allele frequencies without mention of the level of the changes (above species level or below). Those who did were generally working within the continental European traditions (as Dobzhansky, Ernst Mayr, Bernhard Rensch, Richard Goldschmidt, and Otto Schindewolf were) and those who did not were generally working within the Anglo-American tradition (such as John Maynard Smith and Richard Dawkins). Hence, use of the term "macroevolution" is sometimes wrongly used as a litmus test of whether the writer is "properly" neo-Darwinian or not.[6]

Macroevolution and the modern evolutionary synthesis

Within the Modern Synthesis school of thought, macroevolution is thought of as the compounded effects of microevolution.[8] Thus, the distinction between micro- and macroevolution is not a fundamental one – the only difference between them is of time and scale. As Ernst W. Mayr observes, "transspecific evolution is nothing but an extrapolation and magnification of the events that take place within populations and is misleading to make a distinction between the causes of micro- and macroevolution".[8] However, time is not a necessary distinguishing factor – macroevolution can happen without gradual compounding of small changes; whole-genome duplication can result in speciation occurring over a single generation - this is especially common in plants.[9]

Changes in the genes regulating development have also been proposed as being important in producing speciation through large and relatively sudden changes in animals' morphology.[10][11]

Types of macroevolution

There are many ways to view macroevolution, for example, by observing changes in the genetics, morphology, taxonomy, ecology, and behavior of organisms. There is evidence that these elements of macroevolution are closely tied to each other so when viewing evolution from one of these perspective, it must also be considered in the context of the others.[12] Sahney et al. stated the connection as "As taxonomic diversity has increased, there have been incentives for tetrapods to move into new modes of life, where initially resources may seem unlimited, there are few competitors and possible refuge from danger. And as ecological diversity increases, taxa diversify from their ancestors at a much greater rate among faunas with more superior, innovative or more flexible adaptations."

  • Molecular evolution occurs through small changes in the molecular or cellular level. Over a long period of time, this can cause big effects on the genetics of organisms.
  • Taxonomic evolution occurs through small changes between populations and then species. Over a long period of time, this can cause big effects on the taxonomy of organisms, with the growth of whole new clades above the species level.
  • Morphological evolution occurs through small changes in the morphology of an organism. Over a long period of time, this can cause big effects on the morphology of major clades. This can be clearly seen in Cetacea, throughout the early evolution of Cetacea, hindlimbs were still present. However over millions of years the hindlimbs regressed and became internal.[13]
  • Ecological evolution occurs through small changes in the ecological roles organisms occupy. Over a long period of time, this can cause big effects on the ecological landscape. For example, the occupation of a niche.

Research topics

Some examples of subjects whose study falls within the realm of macroevolution:

Abrupt transformations from one biologic system to another, for example the passing of life from water into land or the transition from invertebrates to vertebrates, are rare. Few major biological types have emerged during the evolutionary history of life and most of them survive till today. When lifeforms take such giant leaps, they meet little to no competition and are able to exploit a plethora of available niches, following a pattern of adaptive radiation. This can lead to convergent evolution, where unrelated populations display similar adaptations.[5]

Recently, Persi & Horn[15] have argued that macroevolutionary events along the history of an extant species may leave a stamp on its proteome: the existence of compositionally ordered (CO) sections of proteins. Introducing a universal measure that counts an effective CO vocabulary they have shown that it distinguishes between major eukaryotic clades.


The term "macroevolution" frequently arises within the context of the evolution/creation debate, usually used by creationists alleging a significant difference between the evolutionary changes observed in field and laboratory studies and the larger scale macroevolutionary changes that scientists believe to have taken thousands or millions of years to occur. They accept that evolutionary change is possible within what they call "kinds" ("microevolution"), but deny that one "kind" can evolve into another ("macroevolution").[16] Contrary to this belief among the anti-evolution movement proponents, evolution of life forms beyond the species level (i.e. speciation) has indeed been observed multiple times under both controlled laboratory conditions and in nature.[17] In creation science, creationists accepted speciation as occurring within a "created kind" or "baramin", but objected to what they called "third level-macroevolution" of a new genus or higher rank in taxonomy. Generally, there is ambiguity as to where they draw a line on "species", "created kinds", etc. and what events and lineages fall within the rubric of microevolution or macroevolution.[18] The claim that macroevolution does not occur, or is impossible, is not supported by the scientific community.

Such claims are rejected by the scientific community on the basis of ample evidence that macroevolution is an active process both presently and in the past.[6][19] The terms macroevolution and microevolution relate to the same processes operating at different scales, but creationist claims misuse the terms in a vaguely defined way which does not accurately reflect scientific usage, acknowledging well observed evolution as "microevolution" and denying that "macroevolution" takes place.[6][20] Evolutionary theory (including macroevolutionary change) remains the dominant scientific paradigm for explaining the origins of Earth's biodiversity. Its occurrence is not disputed within the scientific community.[21] While details of macroevolution are continuously studied by the scientific community, the overall theory behind macroevolution (i.e. common descent) has been overwhelmingly consistent with empirical data. Predictions of empirical data from the theory of common descent have been so consistent that biologists often refer to it as the "fact of evolution".[22][23]

Describing the fundamental similarity between Macro and Microevolution in his authoritative textbook "Evolutionary Biology," biologist Douglas Futuyma writes,

Nicholas Matzke and Paul R. Gross have accused creationists of using "strategically elastic" definitions of micro- and macroevolution when discussing the topic.[1] The actual definition of macroevolution accepted by the vast majority of[24] scientists is "any change at the species level or above" (phyla, group, etc.) and microevolution is "any change below the level of species." Matzke and Gross state that many creationist critics define macroevolution as something that cannot be attained, as these critics dismiss any observed evolutionary change as "just microevolution".[1]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d Matzke, Nicholas J. and Paul R. Gross. 2006. Analyzing Critical Analysis: The Fallback Antievolutionist Strategy. In Eugenie Scott and Glenn Branch, Not in Our Classrooms: Why Intelligent Design is Wrong for Our Schools, Beacon Press, Boston ISBN 0807032786
  2. ^ Dobzhansky, Theodosius Grigorievich (1937). Genetics and the origin of species. New York: Columbia Univ. Press. p. 12.  
  3. ^ Reznick DN, Ricklefs RE (February 2009). "Darwin's bridge between microevolution and macroevolution". Nature 457 (7231): 837–42.  
  4. ^ a b Futuyma, Douglas (1998). Evolutionary Biology. Sinauer Associates. 
  5. ^ a b Introduction to Ecology (1983) - J.C. Emberlin, chapter 8
  6. ^ a b c d Macroevolution: Its definition, Philosophy and History
  7. ^ a b Gingerich, P. D. (1987). "Evolution and the fossil record: patterns, rates, and processes". Canadian Journal of Zoology 65 (5): 1053–1060.  
  8. ^ a b Kutschera U, Niklas KJ (June 2004). "The modern theory of biological evolution: an expanded synthesis". Die Naturwissenschaften 91 (6): 255–76.  
  9. ^ Rieseberg LH, Willis JH (August 2007). "Plant Speciation". Science 317 (5840): 910–4.  
  10. ^ Valentine JW, Jablonski D (2003). "Morphological and developmental macroevolution: a paleontological perspective". The International Journal of Developmental Biology 47 (7–8): 517–22.  
  11. ^ Johnson NA, Porter AH (2001). "Toward a new synthesis: population genetics and evolutionary developmental biology". Genetica. 112–113: 45–58.  
  12. ^ Sahney, S., Benton, M.J. and Ferry, P.A. (2010). "Links between global taxonomic diversity, ecological diversity and the expansion of vertebrates on land" (PDF). Biology Letters 6 (4): 544–547.  
  13. ^ McGowen, M. R.; Gatesy, J; Wildman, D. E. (2014). "Molecular evolution tracks macroevolutionary transitions in Cetacea". Trends in Ecology & Evolution 29 (6): 336–46.  
  14. ^ Grinin, L., Markov, A. V., Korotayev, A. Aromorphoses in Biological and Social Evolution: Some General Rules for Biological and Social Forms of Macroevolution / Social evolution & History, vol.8, num. 2, 2009 [1]
  15. ^ Persi E, Horn D (November 2013). "Systematic Analysis of Compositional Order of Proteins Reveals New Characteristics of Biological Functions and a Universal Correlate of Macroevolution". PLoS Comput Biol 9 (11): e1003346.  
  16. ^ edited by Scott, Eugenie C.; Branch, Glenn (2006). Not in our classrooms : why intelligent design is wrong for our schools (1st ed.). Boston: Beacon Press. p. 47.  
  17. ^ Rice, W.R.; Hostert (1993). "Laboratory experiments on speciation: what have we learned in 40 years". Evolution 47 (6): 1637–1653.  
    *Jiggins CD, Bridle JR (2004). "Speciation in the apple maggot fly: a blend of vintages?". Trends Ecol. Evol. (Amst.) 19 (3): 111–4.  
    *Boxhorn, J (1995). "Observed Instances of Speciation".  
    *Kirkpatrick, Mark; Virginie Ravigné (March 2002). "Speciation by Natural and Sexual Selection: Models and Experiments". The American Naturalist 159 (3): S22–S35.  
  18. ^ Awbrey, Frank T. (1981). "Defining "Kinds" — Do Creationists Apply a Double Standard?". National Center for Science Education. 
  19. ^ CB901: No Macroevolution
  20. ^ CB902: Microevolution is distinct from macroevolution.
  21. ^ Myers 2006; NSTA 2007; IAP 2006; AAAS 2006; and Pinholster 2006; Ruling, Kitzmiller v. Dover page 83
  22. ^ 29+ Evidences for Macroevolution: The Scientific Case for Common Descent, Douglas L. Theobald, TalkOrigins Archive, Vers. 2.83, 2004, 12 Jan 2004.
  23. ^ Laurence Moran (1993). "Evolution is a Fact and a Theory".  
  24. ^ John Wilkins (2006). "Macroevolution: Its Definition, Philosophy and History".  

External links

  • Introduction to macroevolution
  • Macroevolution as the common descent of all life
  • Macroevolution in the 21st century Macroevolution as an independent discipline.
  • Macroevolution FAQ
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