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Need for the term microevolution

  1. May 8, 2012 #1
    I get somewhat confused when in biology they use the term micro evolution. Is it a standard term in biology? . Because small changes sometimes could result in a entirely new populations. Its becomes quite difficult to distinguish between micro and macroevolution in some cases.

    Example take HIV we know that due errors in copying, several different populations or generations of the virus can be present within a single person.

    Do we take speciation as macroevolution ?
  2. jcsd
  3. May 26, 2012 #2
    hi thorium1010,

    there is a very simple way to distinguish micro evolution from macro evolution. Just think of this, if the evolution resulted in a new *species*, then this would be termed macroevolution (the debate to whether this really exists or not is a different subject).

    If there is no new species (no speciation), then it would be micro evolution. When you refer to different populations or different strains, these are still the same 'species', just different strains or populations of this species.

    Hope that helps!
  4. May 26, 2012 #3
    The terms aren't really all that common in biology, and the distinction certainly isn't regarded as being critically important (there is no qualitative difference between the two). The distinction is most commonly made within popular culture, usually in the context of intelligent design, where it has become fashionable to deny that "macroevolution" actually occurs.
  5. May 27, 2012 #4
    Macroevolution is evolution on a grand scale — what we see when we look at the over-arching history of life: stability, change, lineages arising, and extinction.”


    “House sparrows have adapted to the climate of North America, mosquitoes have evolved in response to global warming, and insects have evolved resistance to our pesticides. These are all examples of microevolution — evolution on a small scale.”

    Mechanisms of microevolution
  6. May 27, 2012 #5
    Thanks, wouldn't that be just the same as adaptation. I Think, that's why it is confusing. I am not a biologist, so i do not know whether they are standard terms used in this field.

    Thanks for your reply. The examples you give just seems more of adaptation. I thought both adaptation and changes over long time are a part of evolution.
  7. May 27, 2012 #6
    Hi thorium:smile: I'm in bit of a rush today but wanted to tell you that you don't have to be a biologist to learn about evolution. It is taught to children in elementary schools.(1) :smile: Thank you for giving me the opportunity to help you by sharing with you the website Understanding Evolution - An introduction to evolution: http://evolution.berkeley.edu/evolibrary/article/0_0_0/evo_02 . My suggestion is for you to explore it and learn from that website.

    Re:Adaptation you can learn about it here:http://evolution.berkeley.edu/evoli...llsipkdpfm&q=adaptation&cof=FORID:11&x=26&y=4

    1. http://evolution.berkeley.edu/evolibrary/teach/index.php
  8. May 27, 2012 #7


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    Like #9 pointed out, the terms really aren't that common in biology. They are common in the lay-community, popular press, lay-literature, etc.

    They are functionally the same process, just viewed over a different amount of time. How different, really depends on the subjectivity of the speaker--Nothing on nature's part. And that's whats important to understand: they are man-made distinctions, not natural ones.
  9. May 27, 2012 #8
    I'd like to deal strickly with this particular comment you made. The peer-reviewed journal Science does use microevolution:
    A Localized Negative Genetic Correlation Constrains Microevolution of Coat Color in Wild Sheep
    18 January 2008
    Gratten et al., 319 (5861): 318-320

    Furthermore, the link I earlier provided is a valuable resource as well. Thank you.
  10. May 27, 2012 #9


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    Yes, I am aware that you can search the literature and find the word being used. I'm also aware of UC Berkeley's evo 101 website--Its a great website I often recommend to people. In fact a couple of my friends from undergrad that were fellow evolutionary ecology/organismal biology majors who went to Berkeley for grad school helped work on the site :)

    My point was the word doesn't really have a practical meaning to biologists, other then talking about some subjective amount of change that has occurred. If you hang with professional biologists (like I used to do a lot), especially the evolutionary kind--The word really isn't used all that much.

    In fact, that is kind of was the whole point of the modern synthetic theory (of evolution)--Are you familiar with it?

    The cladists and paleontologists saw what they believed to be "macro" changes in the fossil record. This was periodically explained with different ideas like "hopeful monsters". In fact it ignited a minor war in biology. The geneticists saw local variation occurring (what one might describe as "microevolution") and the two camps fought a little battle about how evolution occurred.

    Eventually it was all reconciled by the Fishers, Haldanes, Dobzhanskys and Myars (my favorite). What it really codified was population genetics and showed that the "macroevolution" of the cladists was simply scaled out "microevolution" of the geneticists. Very interesting history, I've thought about writing a book about it, but life leaves me little time for such pursuits :(
  11. May 27, 2012 #10


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    "Although the macroevolution of V1r and V2r genes has been well characterized throughout vertebrates, especially mammals, little is known about their microevolutionary patterns"

    "Recent studies have begun to take advantage of these attributes and are starting to link the microevolution of horned beetle development to the macroevolution of novel features"

    "Evolutionary biologists have long sought to understand the relationship between microevolution (adaptation), which can be observed both in nature and in the laboratory, and macroevolution (speciation and the origin of the divisions of the taxonomic hierarchy above the species level, and the development of complex organs), which cannot be witnessed because it occurs over intervals that far exceed the human lifespan."

    "Testing whether macroevolution follows microevolution"

    "Several theoretical treatments and empirical reviews confirm previous research in showing that microevolutionary processes are at least capable of generating macroevolutionary trends."

    "The attractiveness of macroevolution reflects the exhaustive documentation of large-scale patterns which reveal a richness to evolution unexplained by microevolution."

    "Microevolution would appear to be accommodated by incremental changes within this fundamental unit, whereas macroevolution would appear to involve "quantum" changes to the next stable size of protein."
    Last edited: May 27, 2012
  12. May 27, 2012 #11

    Bobze, I find that hard to accept, considering what I have presented and what atty has also presented. Thanks Atty for the help. :smile:

    Back in 2004 I recall reading an article from Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Here is an excerpt:
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  13. May 28, 2012 #12
    I don't recall anyone claiming that the terms weren't used in biology; the point is that popular culture treats the distinction between the two as a subject of fundamental importance in evolutionary biology, largely due to the influence of creationist lobbying, when biology does't really recognize a qualitative difference between the two. The old talking point about how "scientists have proved microevolution, but not macroevolution!!!1!!1" vastly overstates the importance of the distinction.
  14. May 28, 2012 #13

    Let's see if I can help you out.:smile:Critical Thinking and Scientific Method rids us of
    pseudoscientific thinking! :biggrin: Terms are extremely important in science.

    Definition of Terminology:
    Reputable scientists aren't in the business of proving science to people. Scientific research
    is the way to go.:smile:
  15. May 28, 2012 #14


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    VOM, no offense but just googlebing'ing "macroevolution" or "microevolution" in a search engine on pubmed or any scientific journal's website isn't going to give you an idea of how the terms are viewed at current in evolutionary biology. If you want to understand their use and non-use in evolutionary biology you need to sit down and talk with some evolutionary biologists.

    I can log on to nature (and I am aware of how prestigious nature is--My name is attached to a couple articles published there) and search for the word "fairy" and pull 1,043 results. Are you going to argue that "fairy" is an integral word used and ruled by science? I hope not. There is a difference in simply searching the literature for words and mining them and actually understanding how they are used in a particular field of science.

    Number Nine is spot on again. There isn't a qualitative difference between the two. Again this was settled with the advent of TMS. Arguing that there is two distinct things of "micro" and "macro" evolution only confuses the lay community, plays into creationists hands and really shows that one doesn't understand the processes they are discussing.

    There are a lot of good resources echoing what both Number Nine and I have stated. From evolutionary biologists and from professional biologists organizations. For example here is NCSE;


    Here is the American Academy for the Advancement of Sciences on the subject;


    If you want to actually understand the terms in the context of how biologists actually use them, and don't want to go to the trouble of picking up a degree in evolutionary biology then I'd recommend you read some Jerry Coyne (Why evolution is true). Also I noticed you have a quote above from Neil Shubin--You should actually read his book (Your inner fish) as well, it further supports what both Number Nine and myself have pointed out.

    If you are having trouble understanding how the terms are commonly mixed up in the public sphere enjoy this video which points out how creationist misuse the words with intent to prey upon the layman of evolutionary biology;

  16. May 28, 2012 #15


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    For Thorium, if you are interested in a more in depth discussion of the terms Talkorigins has a good FAQ page on the history of "macroevolution"


  17. May 28, 2012 #16


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    Thank you bobze, wonderful explanation. I am closing this now as the OP's question has been answered and to prevent more confusion.
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