Convergent Evolution: an introduction

Convergent Evolution is when different species evolve similar structures or functions despite the fact that their evolutionary ancestors were very different and very distantly related.  A homoplasy or homoplastic trait refers to the similar biological trait acquired by species from different lineages.

Evolutionary_trends

This diagram illustrates the differences between divergent, parallel, and convergent evolution. The latter is when two different (and relatively unrelated) organisms evolve to be similar to each other.

Some examples from Biology Online:

  • the wings of bats, birds, and insects evolved independently from each other but all are used to perform the function of flying;
  • the complex camera eyes of vertebrates, cephalopods (squid and octopus), cubozoan jellyfish, and arthropods (insects, spiders, crustaceans) evolved separately, but all perform the function of vision;
  • the smelling organs of the terrestrial coconut crab are similar to those of insects;
  • the very similar shells of brachiopods and bivalve molluscs;
  • prickles, thorns and spines have evolved independently to prevent or limit herbivory;
  • plant hormones such as gibberellin and abscisic acid of plants and fungi;

flight

A long list of examples of convergent evolution is available at Wikipedia.

This blog will explore these and many other examples of convergent evolution.

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