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vestigial structure

remnant of a structure that may have had an important function in a species' ancestors, but has no clear function in the modern species

homologous structure

body parts that are structurally similar in related species; provide evidence that the structures were inherited from a common ancestor.


the remains (or an impression) of a plant or animal that existed in a past geological age and that has been excavated from the soil


a theory that explains how random changes in genetic material and competition for scarce resources cause species to change gradually


a group of organisms of the same species populating a given area

natural selection

process by which individuals that are better suited to their environment survive and reproduce most successfully; also called survival of the fittest


inherited characteristic that increases an organism's chance of survival


group of similar organisms that can breed and produce fertile offspring


one who comes down from a common ancestor

common ancestor

An ancestral species from which later species evolved


Process through which early prokaryotic cells are thought to have engulfed other, smaller cells and eventually incorporated them as organelles (such as mitochondria and chloroplasts); these cells evolved into modern-day eukaryotes.

comparative embryology

The comparison of stages of embryo development that shows how the embryos of different groups resemble each other at particular stages. Similarities indicate groups may share a common ancestor

molecular homology

similarities at molecular level that indicate evolution from a common ancestor or interrelated group of common ancestors; DNA or protein sequences for genes with low mutation rates are compared, usually cytochrome c

Jean-Baptiste Lamarck

French naturalist who proposed that evolution resulted from the inheritance of acquired characteristics

Charles Darwin

English natural scientist who formulated a theory of evolution by natural selection

differential reproductive success

the tendency of some individuals to have greater reproductive success and produce more living offspring than other individuals in a population


the variety of alleles and traits in a population

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