Blind mole rats could be a real eye-opener for evolutionary science. According to a new study, the burrowing rodents are key to answering a controversial question about how new species arise.
Sex is a near-universal fact of life that helps spread genes through a population. When a mountain chain or some other physical barrier blocks that spread, a population may evolve into two genetically distinct groups that are no longer able to interbreed successfully. This process is known as allopatric speciation.
In theory, though, new species can form even without a physical barrier to force the issue. Natural variation means that some individuals in a population may behave differently from their peers, for instance, and over time the differences can become great enough to prevent gene flow. Exactly how often this so-called sympatric speciation occurs in nature remains a topic of hot debate.
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