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Convergent and Divergent Evolution

Unrelated species evolve similar traits in order to survive.

Convergent and divergent evolution 

Unrelated species from different branches of the evolutionary tree often evolve similar traits that help them survive in their environment. We call this convergent evolution. 

For example, the morphology, attractants and mechanisms of pitcher traps used to capture and consume small animals has evolved similarly across at least six unrelated plant lineages to fulfill the role of acquiring nutrients to survive. 

Read the full research here.

When a single species, or closely related complex of species evolves different traits to help them survive, often due to environmental change or geographic isolations (think Darwin’s finches) we call this divergent evolution. If these new traits persist in the gene pool then eventually entirely new species may be formed. 

For example, extreme diversification and speciation in the Eucalyptus genus has resulted in over 700 species of eucalypts now found throughout Australia. One particular group, called the ‘green ashes’ has member species that are found across highly diverse habitats with different soil types, from cold mountain-tops to coastal headlands. The speciation among the green ashes is a current research focus at the Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney and can be described as watching ‘evolution in action’. 

Read the full research here.

Or alternatively visit the ABG site here for a summary of the findings.

For an alternative example of divergent evolution check out our research on carnivorous Bladderworts here

Plant Evolution

Watch this video to explore the evolution of plants and discover details about phylogenetic trees.

Activities - Convergent and Divergent Evolution

1. Convergent evolution in plants

Examine the above material discussing the example of convergent evolution in carnivorous plants and the examples of divergent evolution in the green ash eucalypts. Summarise your findings.

2. Convergent evolution in animals

Read this article on the evolution of flight and watch the below video. Make notes on which animals have evolved the same basic body plans.

3. Darwin's finches

Read this research article and watch the below video about Darwin’s finches. Make notes about the important characteristics that helped Darwin to formulate his theory of Evolution by Natural Selection.

4. Recap crossword

Reflect on everything you have learnt to complete this crossword.

5. Quiz time

Complete this challenging quiz based on convergent vs divergent evolutionary traits in the natural world. All image credits here.

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