Adaptive radiation describes the rapid speciation of a single or a few species to fill many ecological niches. This is an evolutionary process driven by mutation (heritable/genetic variation) and natural selection.

Causes of adaptive radiation


Isolated ecosystems, such as archipelagos and mountain areas, can be colonized by a species which, upon establishing itself, undergoes rapid divergent evolution. Monotremes and marsupials are examples of geographic isolation. Monotremes evolved before the evolution of placental mammals, and they are found today only in Australia, an island isolated by ocean. Marsupials, which also evolved before the appearance of placental mammals are also common in Australia. In Australia, marsupials evolved to fill many ecological niches that placental mammals fill on other continents.

Adaptive radiation in popular culture

In science fiction sometimes adaptive radiation of humans is imagined. This often makes for interesting multi-species worlds.


  • Wilson, E. et al. Life on Earth, by Wilson,E.; Eisner,T.; Briggs,W.; Dickerson,R.; Metzenberg,R.; O'brien,R.; Susman,M.; Boggs,W.; (Sinauer Associates, Inc., Publishers, Stamford, Connecticut), c 1974. Chapters: The Multiplication of Species; Biogeography, pp 824-877. 40 Graphs, w species pictures, also Tables, Photos, etc. Includes Galápagos Islands, Hawaii, and Australia subcontinent, (plus St. Helena Island, etc.).

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