, Volume 1, Issue 2, pp 138-146
Date: 19 Jan 2008

Views from Understanding Evolution: Parsimonious Explanations for Punctuated Patterns

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Antievolution groups have frequently pointed to the debate prompted by Niles Eldredge and Stephen Gould’s (1972) proposal of punctuated equilibria with triumph. “Look,” they’ve claimed, “biologists can’t even agree among themselves how evolution works. The theory must be failing.” In the article included in this issue, “Editor’s Corner: The Early “Evolution” of “Punctuated Equilibria”,” Niles Eldredge (2008) takes on that mischaracterization. He describes the roots of punctuated equilibria and reveals how it builds on (not tears down!) established evolutionary theory.

The idea of punctuated equilibria was inspired by a mysterious pattern in the fossil record. Many fossil organisms have retained the same anatomy for millions of years, appearing to evolve in body form hardly at all—a phenomenon that Eldredge and Gould termed stasis. Then, suddenly, the organisms seem to have experienced a jolt of evolution, quickly evolving into related, but new, species (Fig. 1a,b). Paleontologists see t ...