Evolution and environment reader

April 11, 2012, 3:15 pm
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Writing about the importance of turning the “light of evolution” toward biology, Theodosius Dobzhansky wrote, “Without that light [biology] becomes a pile of sundry facts – some of them interesting or curious but making no meaningful picture as a whole.”  As well, environment and evolution of living things are related intricately as one influences the other. This Reader is intended as a sampling of articles on significant time periods, events and processes throughout time that have influenced life on Earth today. 


  • Evolution (This article defines evolultion and introduces many basic concepts associated with evolution from mechanisms to constraints. Since it touches upon many but not all of the topics listed below, it may be helpful read this article first and then again once you have completed the reader.)

From the beginning

The first step in the evolutionary process is energy, the Big Bang, and in our case, the evolution of earth. 

Time periods in earth’s history  

The age of dinosaurs

  •  Cenozoic  There are many different epochs within the Cenozoic, the most intriguing is the more recently proposed:

Materials and mechanisms for evolution of life

There are many different ideas about life's origins, whether deep in the heart of a black smoker, the remnants of a meterite or in the shallow ponds and pools of the Archean ocean. Wherever, and however life on earth began, all of life on earth today depend upon the same biochemical ingredients. All of which reflect the chemistry of early earth. 

Building blocks


Evolution acts through natural selection on heritable traits. Population size, growth rate, migration, bottlenecks are also integral to evolution, as are neutral processes -- those which are neither beneficial or detrimental - yet which result in altered gene frequencies in populations.

Outcomes of evolution

No matter the level of biological orgainzation from single cell to ecosystem, the outcome of evolution is a highly complex system. While the concept of complexity was not always integral to many life sciences, the more we know about all aspects of biology whether replication in DNA or a metabolic pathway or interspecies relationships, the more it becomes clear that complexity is the rule rather than the exception. 

Life: organism

The beauty of evolution can be found in the vast diversity of life and in the chemistry and biochemistry shared across species from microorganisms to humans.


Humans and microbes: Microbiomes and environmental health

Plants and Algae: Plant life and aquatic plants

Select plants and algae

Multicellular animal life (Metazoa)

Select Invertebrates

Select Vertebrates

Human Influences

Changes to earth's environments and biota caused by humans result in selective pressure and in some species have influenced the course of evolution.  

Responses to human influences: examples
Climate change and evolution


Additional Reading


  • Barnosky, Anthony et al. “Has the Earth’s Sixth Mass Extinction Already Arrived?” Nature 471 (2011):51-57.
  •  Barrett, Rowan and Dolph Schluter. “Adaptation from Standing Genetic Variation.” Trends in Ecology & Evolution 23 (2008):38-44
  • Berenbaum, May R. “Postgenomic Chemical Ecology: from genetic code to ecological interactions.” Journal of chemical ecology 28 (2002):873-96.
  • Bickham, J. “The four cornerstones of Evolutionary Toxicology.” Ecotoxicology 20 (2011):497-502.
  • Conover, D. and S. Munch. “Sustaining fisheries yields over evolutionary time scales.” Science 297 (2002):94 – 96.
  • de Roode, Jaap. “The Moths of War,” New Scientist, 2007, accessed, August 2011, http://leebor2.741.com/moth.html
  • Dobzhansky, T. “Nothing in Biology the Light Makes of Sense Except in Evolution.” The American Biology Teacher 35 (1973):125-129.
  • Forgash, J. “History, Evolution and Consequences of Insecticide Resistance.” Pesticide Biochemistry and Biophysiology 22 (1984):178-186
  • Gould, Stephen J., and Niles Eldredge. “Punctuated Equilibrium Comes of Age.” Nature 366 (1993):223-227.
  • Grant P.R. and B.R. Grant. “Unpredictable Evolution in a 30-Year Study of Darwin?s Finches.” Science 296 (2002):707-11.
  • Grant P.R. and B.R. Grant. “Predicting Microevolutionary Response to Directional Selection on Heritable Variation.” Evolution 49 (1995):241-251.
  • Grosberg, Richard K., and Richard R. Strathmann. “The Evolution of Multicellularity: A Minor Major Transition?” Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics 38 (2007):621-654.
  • Gunsolus, J. “Herbicide Resistant Weeds,” Univeristy of Minnesota Extension, accessed August, 2011, http://www.extension.umn.edu/distribution/cropsystems/dc6077.html;
  • Hazen, R. “Evolution of Minerals.” Scientific American 302 (2010): 58-65.
  • Hendry, Andrew, et al. “Evolutionary Principles and their Practical Application.” Evolutionary Applications 4 (2011):159-183.
  • Hendry, A. and M. Kinneson. 1999. “Perspective: The pace of modern life: measuring rates of contemporary microevolution.” Evolution 53: 1637-1653
  • Kirschvink, J., and R. Kopp. “Palaeoproterozoic Ice Houses and the Evolution of Oxygen-Mediating Enzymes: the case for a late origin of photosystem II.” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B 363 (2008):2755-2765.
  • Koonin, E. “Darwinian evolution in light of genomics.” Nucleic Acids Research 37 (2009): 1011-1034.
  • Labbé, Pierrick, et al.“Forty Years of Erratic Insecticide Resistance Evolution in the Mosquito Culex pipiens,PLoS genetics 3 (2007):e205.
  • Lynch, Michael. 2006. “The Origins of Eukaryotic Gene Structure.” Molecular Biology and Evolution 23:450-68.
  • Medina, M. J. Correa, and C. Barata. “Micro-Evolution Due to Pollution: possible consequences for ecosystem responses to toxic stress.” Chemosphere 67 (2007):2105-14.
  • Nielson F. “Evolutionary Events Culminating in Specific Minerals Becoming Essential for Life.” European Journal of Nutrition 39 (2000):62-66.
  • Ouzounis, C., V. Kunin, N. Darzentas, L. Goldovsky. “A Minimal Estimate for the Gene Content of the Last Universal Common Ancestor – exobiology from a terrestrial perspective, Research in microbiology.” 157 (2006): 57-68.
  • Palumbi, S. “Better Evolution Through Chemistry: rapid evolution driven by human changes to the chemical environment.” Chemical Evolution II:From the Origins of Life to Modern Society, ACS Symposium Series 1025 (2009): 333-343.
  • Ricardo A., and J. Szostak. “Life on earth.” Scientific American. 301 (2009): 54-61
  • Rokas, Antonis. 2008. “The origins of multicellularity and the early history of the genetic toolkit for animal development.” Annual review of genetics 42:235-51
  • Srivastava, Mansi et al. “The Amphimedon queenslandica genome and the evolution of animal complexity.” Nature 466 (2010):720-726
  • Stapley J., et al., “Adaptation Genomics: the next generation.” Trends in Ecology & Evolution 25 (2010):705-712.
  • Wink, M. “Plant Secondary Metabolism: diversity, function and its evolution.” Natural Products Communications 8 (2008):1205-1216.



  • Carroll, S. Endless Forms Most Beautiful. New York, NY: Norton and Co., 2005.
  • Cockell, C. and A. Blaustein eds. Ecosytems, Evolution and Ultraviolet Radiation. New York, NY:Springer 2001.
  • Dawkins, R. Ancestors Tale: a pilgrimage to the dawn of evolution. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004.
  • Gluckman, P., A. Beedle, M. Hanson, eds. Principles of Evolutionary Medicine. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.
  • Greaves M. Cancer: The Evolutionary Legacy. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.
  • Lane, N. Oxygen: the molecule that made the world. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.
  • Majerus, Michael. Melanism: Evolution in Action. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.





Monosson, E. (2012). Evolution and environment reader. Retrieved from http://www.eoearth.org/view/article/169239


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