• Question: How does bone structure change in species over time that are closely related?

    Asked by Bea to Lindsay on 19 May 2015.
    • Photo: K. Lindsay Hunter

      K. Lindsay Hunter answered on 19 May 2015:

      Bone structure changes over time in the same way any other part of an organism does–by responding to selective pressures. A lot of these differences are brought about by changes in behavior that lead species to start to follow different evolutionary pathways. These pathways are often characterized by different ways of living off the environment, and that selects for different traits, while relaxing selection on others. They also may move into different environments, which can cause certain traits to be favored over others. Over time, the groups will stop mating with one another, which closes off new genes from entering their gene pool, and causes others to become more or less prevalent.

      Just these seemingly tiny changes in behavior and environment can add up to big changes in bone structure–just look at chimpanzees and humans!

      If you’re a little unsure about some of the terms I’ve used to explain this, you can check out these short videos:

      OR, you might enjoy playing this natural selection game: