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Evidence of evolution: anatomy

Review your understanding of anatomical evidence of evolution in this free article aligned to NGSS standards.

Key points

  • Scientists use information from the present day to determine past evolutionary relationships.
  • For example, scientists often compare the anatomical, or physical, features of modern organisms. By doing this, they can form hypotheses about how species are related through evolution.
  • Species often share anatomical features. Some shared features, such as complex bone structures, were likely inherited from a common ancestor. Shared features resulting from common ancestry are called homologous features.
  • Studying homologous features can help scientists figure out how closely related different species are.
    • Species that share more homologous features are likely more closely related.
    • Species that share fewer homologous features are likely less closely related.
  • Some shared features may seem to be homologous, but they actually evolved independently along different evolutionary lineages. These are called analogous features. Analogous features typically look similar or carry out the same function.
  • Scientists can also compare the anatomical features of modern organisms to those in fossils. This can tell scientists about how species evolved over time.
A diagram shows the forearm bone structure of a human, a dog, a bird, and a whale. Different groups of bones are color coded. The color coding shows that all four organisms share the same forearm bone structure.
Humans, dogs, birds, and whales share the same forearm bone structure. This bone structure is a homologous feature that the organisms inherited from a common ancestor. Image credit: Homology vertebrates, by Волков Владислав Петрович (CC BY-SA 4.0)

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