Glossary of Terms Regarding Evolution

Knowing these terms will help increase your knowledge of Darwinism

Learn the correct definitions of evolution terms
A Dictionary in a Library.

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Following are definitions of common terms referring to the Theory of Evolution that everyone should know and understand, though this is by no means a comprehensive list. Many of the terms are often misunderstood, which can lead to an inaccurate understanding of evolution. The links lead to more information on the topic:

Adaptation: Changing to fit a niche or survive in an environment

Anatomy: Study of the structures of organisms

Artificial Selection: Characteristics selected by humans

Biogeography: Study of how species are distributed across the Earth

Biological Species: Individuals that can interbreed and produce viable offspring

Catastrophism: Changes in species that happen because of quick and often violent natural phenomena

Cladistics: Method of classifying species in groups based on ancestral relationships

Cladogram: Diagram of how species are related

Coevolution: One species changing in response to changes in another species that it interacts with, particularly predator/prey relationships

Creationism: Belief that a higher power created all life

Darwinism: Term commonly used as a synonym for evolution

Descent With Modification: Passing down traits that might change over time

Directional Selection: Type of natural selection in which an extreme characteristic is favored

Disruptive Selection: Type of natural selection that favors both extremes and selects against the average characteristics

Embryology: Study of the earliest stages of development of an organism

Endosymbiotic Theory: Currently accepted theory as to how cells evolved

Eukaryote: Organism made of cells that have membrane-bound organelles

Evolution: Change in populations over time

Fossil Record: All known traces of past life ever found

Fundamental Niche: All available roles an individual can play in an ecosystem

Genetics: Study of traits and how they are passed down from generation to generation

Gradualism: Changes in species that happen over long periods of time

Habitat: Area in which an organism lives

Homologous Structures: Body parts on different species that are similar and most likely evolved from a common ancestor

Hydrothermal Vents: Very hot areas in the ocean where primitive life might have begun

Intelligent Design: Belief that a higher power created life and its changes

Macroevolution: Changes in populations at the species level, including ancestral relationships

Mass Extinction: Event in which large numbers of species died out completely

Microevolution: Changes in species at a molecular or gene level

Natural Selection: Characteristics that are favorable in an environment and are passed down while undesirable characteristics are bred out of the gene pool

Niche: ​Role an individual plays in an ecosystem

Organelle: Subunit within a cell that has a specific function

Panspermia Theory: Early theory proposing that life came to Earth on meteors from outer space

Phylogeny: Study of relative connections between species

Prokaryote: Organism made up of the simplest type of cell; has no membrane-bound organelles

Primordial Soup: Nickname given to the theory that life started in the oceans from the synthesis of organic molecules

Punctuated Equilibrium: Long periods of consistency of a species interrupted by changes that happen in quick bursts

Realized Niche: Actual role an individual plays in an ecosystem

Speciation: The creation of a new species, often from evolution of another species

Stabilizing Selection: Type of natural selection that favors the average of the characteristics

Taxonomy: ​Science of classifying and naming organisms

Theory of Evolution: Scientific theory about the origins of life on Earth and how it has changed over time

Vestigial Structures: Body parts that seem to no longer have a purpose in an organism

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Scoville, Heather. "Glossary of Terms Regarding Evolution." ThoughtCo, Sep. 12, 2021, Scoville, Heather. (2021, September 12). Glossary of Terms Regarding Evolution. Retrieved from Scoville, Heather. "Glossary of Terms Regarding Evolution." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 30, 2023).