Hugh Bollinger
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Map of Life

One of the general principals of evolution is that "if a niche is empty, something will evolve to fill it". Over and over again since life on Earth appeared nearly 4 billion years ago, filling niches presented by new environments-- islands, mountain tops, canyon walls, geothermal pools, etc. --has constantly occurred. What is less known is a subset of this evolutionary process called: convergent evolution which produces organisms that have structures with similar appearances or functions in spite of their evolutionary ancestors being dissimilar or unrelated. [caption id="attachment_5711" align="alignleft" width="220" caption="Convergent evolution in 2 unrelated succulent plants (source: Wikipedia)"][/caption] [caption id="attachment_5712" align="alignright" width="220" caption="Convergent evolution in 2 unrelated succulent plants (source: Wikipedia)"][/caption] The University of Cambridge in England just introduced Map of Life that aims to expand our understanding of this evolutionary process and its remarkable and beautiful results. As the authors of the map say: "Our aim is to tell you nearly everything you need to know about convergent evolution. It allows you to explore the way that similar adaptive solutions have repeatedly evolved from unrelated starting points, using hundreds of examples of convergence. If you want to learn about convergence in sex (e.g. love-darts), eyes (e.g. camera-eyes in jellyfish), agriculture (e.g. in ants) or gliding (e.g. in lizards and mammals) then this is your best port of call." Two examples illustrate convergent evolution seen in succulent plants only distantly related, but independently converged, with very similar functional forms and distantly related animal predators with keen, night-time, binocular vision and targetable ears to help their hunting. [caption id="attachment_5722" align="alignleft" width="220" caption="Owl with night-vision and directable ears (source: Wikipedia)"][/caption] [caption id="attachment_5723" align="alignright" width="220" caption="Cat with night-vision and directable ears (source: Wikipedia"][/caption] What is also very cool about the University of Cambridge's Map of Life is that the University was where Charles Darwin originally gained his inspiration to explore natural history. Along with Darwin's intellectual competitor, Alfred Wallace, his curiosity in life myriad forms led to discovering evolution's power, the foundation of all modern biology. WHB
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