Divergent evolution

Divergent evolution

Ask a question about 'Divergent evolution'
Start a new discussion about 'Divergent evolution'
Answer questions from other users
Full Discussion Forum

Divergent evolution is the accumulation of differences between groups which can lead to the formation of new species, usually a result of diffusion of the same species to different and isolated environments which blocks the gene flow among the distinct populations allowing differentiated fixation of characteristics through genetic drift and natural selection. Primarily diffusion is the basis of molecular division can be seen in some higher-level characters of structure and function that are readily observable in organisms. For example, the vertebrate
Vertebrates are animals that are members of the subphylum Vertebrata . Vertebrates are the largest group of chordates, with currently about 58,000 species described. Vertebrates include the jawless fishes, bony fishes, sharks and rays, amphibians, reptiles, mammals, and birds...

 limb is one example of divergent evolution. The limb in many different species has a common origin, but has diverged somewhat in overall structure and function.

Alternatively, "divergent evolution" can be applied to molecular biology
Molecular biology
Molecular biology is the branch of biology that deals with the molecular basis of biological activity. This field overlaps with other areas of biology and chemistry, particularly genetics and biochemistry...

 characteristics. This could apply to a pathway in two or more organisms or cell types, for example. This can apply to genes and protein
Proteins are biochemical compounds consisting of one or more polypeptides typically folded into a globular or fibrous form, facilitating a biological function. A polypeptide is a single linear polymer chain of amino acids bonded together by peptide bonds between the carboxyl and amino groups of...

s, such as nucleotide
Nucleotides are molecules that, when joined together, make up the structural units of RNA and DNA. In addition, nucleotides participate in cellular signaling , and are incorporated into important cofactors of enzymatic reactions...

 sequences or protein sequences that derive from two or more homologous genes
Homology (biology)
Homology forms the basis of organization for comparative biology. In 1843, Richard Owen defined homology as "the same organ in different animals under every variety of form and function". Organs as different as a bat's wing, a seal's flipper, a cat's paw and a human hand have a common underlying...

. Both orthologous genes (resulting from a speciation
Speciation is the evolutionary process by which new biological species arise. The biologist Orator F. Cook seems to have been the first to coin the term 'speciation' for the splitting of lineages or 'cladogenesis,' as opposed to 'anagenesis' or 'phyletic evolution' occurring within lineages...

 event) and paralogous genes (resulting from gene duplication
Gene duplication
Gene duplication is any duplication of a region of DNA that contains a gene; it may occur as an error in homologous recombination, a retrotransposition event, or duplication of an entire chromosome.The second copy of the gene is often free from selective pressure — that is, mutations of it have no...

 within a population) can be said to display divergent evolution. Because of the latter, it is possible for divergent evolution to occur between two genes within a species.

In the case of divergent evolution, similarity is due to the common origin, such as divergence from a common ancestral structure or function has not yet completely obscured the underlying similarity. In contrast, convergent evolution
Convergent evolution
Convergent evolution describes the acquisition of the same biological trait in unrelated lineages.The wing is a classic example of convergent evolution in action. Although their last common ancestor did not have wings, both birds and bats do, and are capable of powered flight. The wings are...

 arises when there are some sort of ecological or physical drivers toward a similar solution, even though the structure or function has arisen independently, such as different characters converging on a common, similar solution from different points of origin. This includes analogous structures.


The apple maggot fly once infested the fruit of a native Australian hawthorn. In the 1860s some maggot flies began to infest apples. They multiplied rapidly because they were able to make use of an abundant food supply. Now there are two distinct species, one that reproduces when the apples are ripe, and another that continues to infest the native hawthorn. They have not only evolved different reproductive timing, but also now have distinctive physical characteristics.


J. T. Gulick founded the usage of this term and other related terms can vary slightly from one researcher to the next. Furthermore, the actual relationships might be more complex than the simple definitions of these terms allow. "Divergent evolution" is most commonly meant when someone invokes evolutionary relationships and "convergent evolution" is applied when similarity is created by evolution independently creating similar structures and functions. The term parallel evolution
Parallel evolution
Parallel evolution is the development of a similar trait in related, but distinct, species descending from the same ancestor, but from different clades.-Parallel vs...

 is also sometimes used to describe the appearance of a similar structure in closely related species, whereas convergent evolution is used primarily to refer to similar structures in much more distantly related clades
Cladistics is a method of classifying species of organisms into groups called clades, which consist of an ancestor organism and all its descendants . For example, birds, dinosaurs, crocodiles, and all descendants of their most recent common ancestor form a clade...

. For example, some might call the modification of the vertebrate limb to become a wing in bat
Bats are mammals of the order Chiroptera "hand" and pteron "wing") whose forelimbs form webbed wings, making them the only mammals naturally capable of true and sustained flight. By contrast, other mammals said to fly, such as flying squirrels, gliding possums, and colugos, glide rather than fly,...

s and bird
Birds are feathered, winged, bipedal, endothermic , egg-laying, vertebrate animals. Around 10,000 living species and 188 families makes them the most speciose class of tetrapod vertebrates. They inhabit ecosystems across the globe, from the Arctic to the Antarctic. Extant birds range in size from...

s to be an example of parallel evolution. Vertebrate forelimbs have a common origin and thus, in general, show divergent evolution. However, the modification to the specific structure and function of a wing evolved independently and in parallel within several different vertebrate clades. Also, it has much to do with humans and the way they function from day to day.

In complex structures, there may be other cases where some aspects of the structures are due to divergence and some aspects that might be due to convergence or parallelism. In the case of the eye, it was initially thought that different clades had different origins of the eye, but this is no longer thought by some researchers. It is possible that induction of the light-sensing eye during development might be diverging from a common ancestor across many clades, but the details of how the eye is constructed—and in particular the structures that focus light in cephalapods and vertebrates, for example—might have some convergent or parallel aspects to it, as well.

A good example of divergent evolution is Darwin's finches
Darwin's finches
Darwin's finches are a group of 14 or 15 species of passerine birds. It is still not clear which bird family they belong to, but they are not related to the true finches. They were first collected by Charles Darwin on the Galápagos Islands during the second voyage of the Beagle...

, which now have over 80 varieties which all diverged from one original species of finch
The true finches are passerine birds in the family Fringillidae. They are predominantly seed-eating songbirds. Most are native to the Northern Hemisphere, but one subfamily is endemic to the Neotropics, one to the Hawaiian Islands, and one subfamily – monotypic at genus level – is found...

. (John Barnes)Another example of divergent evolution are the organisms having the 5 digit pentadactyle limbs like the humans, bats, and whales. They have evolved from a common ancestor but today they are different due to environmental pressures

See also

  • Adaptive radiation
    Adaptive radiation
    In evolutionary biology, adaptive radiation is the evolution of ecological and phenotypic diversity within a rapidly multiplying lineage. Starting with a recent single ancestor, this process results in the speciation and phenotypic adaptation of an array of species exhibiting different...

  • Cladistics
    Cladistics is a method of classifying species of organisms into groups called clades, which consist of an ancestor organism and all its descendants . For example, birds, dinosaurs, crocodiles, and all descendants of their most recent common ancestor form a clade...

  • Devolution
  • Evolution
    Evolution is any change across successive generations in the heritable characteristics of biological populations. Evolutionary processes give rise to diversity at every level of biological organisation, including species, individual organisms and molecules such as DNA and proteins.Life on Earth...

  • Molecular evolution
    Molecular evolution
    Molecular evolution is in part a process of evolution at the scale of DNA, RNA, and proteins. Molecular evolution emerged as a scientific field in the 1960s as researchers from molecular biology, evolutionary biology and population genetics sought to understand recent discoveries on the structure...