The Map of Life is a recently launched online resource dedicated to telling you everything you might ever need (and want) to know about convergent evolution. Visit the Map of Life at www.mapoflife.org to find out more about this fascinating aspect of biology!
What is convergent evolution? It a biological process that occurs wherever organisms from distant branches on the tree of life change over time (or ‘evolve’ in biology speak) to acquire astonishingly similar solutions (or ‘adaptations’) to life in their environments. The drive for convergent evolution is typically that two organisms living at different times or on opposite corners of the Earth, live in environments with shared features or survival pressures, so that inhabitants can end up adopting the same survival strategies.
Convergence is a ubiquitous process, clearly traceable throughout the history of life and among organisms as distantly related as moths and birds, amoebae and worms. A famous example involves the octopus, which in spite of being a mollusc has a camera-eye with detailed anatomy that closely matches the vertebrate eye, with which we ourselves see the world. Well-known convergences from the plant world are the remarkably similar desert plants of Africa and America, such as the spiky leaf succulents Aloe and Agave.