Tool Module: Gradual Evolution or Punctuated Equilibria?

Another important question about evolution, in addition to what mechanisms lead to the formation of new species, is how these mechanisms operate over time.

Darwin had shown several examples of evolution where certain anatomical traits were transformed gradually, giving rise to new species. According to this gradualist conception of evolution, new species arise through the gradual transformation of ancestral species, and these slow, regular transformations involve the entire population of a species across its entire range.

But Darwin never excluded the possibility that other transformations may have followed a different dynamic. One very different alternative was proposed in the early 1970s by Steven Jay Gould and Nils Eldredge: that evolution might proceed in a non-continuous manner, with long periods of stagnation interrupted by short, sudden periods of rapid transformation leading to the formation of new species.

This theory of punctuated equilibria could account for many paleontological observations . It could explain why the fossil record contains some species that showed very little morphological variation over their entire existence, even though they were around for several million years. It could also explain why this record often shows such species being supplanted suddenly (over a few tens of thousands of years) by a new, clearly differentiated species. And most important, this theory could explain why no fossils of transitional forms between these species may be found: the small size of the intermediate populations, which did not have enough time to leave fossil traces, because the conditions required for fossilization are so rare.

There are a number of species whose evolution seems to have followed this dynamic of punctuated equilibria. But there is still significant debate in the scientific community about the relative importance of punctuated equilibria and gradualism (of which there are also some convincing examples). Are these two dynamics of equal importance, or is one the exception and the other the rule? This question has stimulated a number of studies now in progress. Further studies will be needed to try to determine what factors trigger periods of rapid transformation and what factors encourage long periods of stability.

Two ways of representing evolution by gradualism versus evolution by punctuated equilibria. In the case of gradualism (left), the diagonal lines indicate that morphological changes occur bit by bit over time. In the case of punctuated equilibria (right), the step-like patterns represent rapid morphological changes followed by long periods when the species evolves very little.

Lien: Evolutionnisme - Stephen Jay Gould - Equilibres ponctuésLien: Les équilibres ponctués et les périodes de stase (V)Lien: Micro and Macro EvolutionLien: Punctuated EquilibriaLien: The evolution of life, by Stephen Jay Gould Lien: Speciation by Punctuated EquilibriumLien: L'origine et l'avenir de l'Homme : Les extinctions de masse
Lien: L'Évolution : Diaporama PP : l’évolution 2Lien: "équilibres ponctués"Lien: Une critique du dernier ouvrage de Stephen Jay GouldLien: Punctuated EquilibriumLien: Evolution information: Major Controversies in EvolutionLien: Espèces et spéciationLien: PUNCTUATED EQUILIBRIUM AT TWENTY: A PALEONTOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVE


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