Evolution is the cumulative changes in the heritable characteristics of a population of organisms over many generations. This change is driven by the process of natural selection, through which the organisms with characteristics that give them advantages in an ecosystem survive and reproduce, passing on those beneficial characteristics to the next generation. On the time scale of millennia, the workings of natural selection across the natural variation within a population within the context of a given environment can result in profound evolutionary changes.
Evolution is foundationally important to understanding the origins of the incredibly rich biodiversity of life on Earth, as illustrated by the evolution of human beings from early primates and the evolution of birds from dinosaurs. Charles Darwin, widely known for his role in developing and popularizing the theory of evolution in the 19th century, conceptualized this process as creating a “tree of life” over time, with trunk, branches and leaves symbolizing how individual species and larger groups of organisms all evolved from common ancestors.
The insights of Darwin and other evolutionary theorists have shaped our understanding of biology and genetics, but this powerful paradigm is used in other contexts to illustrate processes of gradual, iterative change. For example, political philosophy has looked to evolution as a model for explaining how forms of social organization and governance have responded to competitive and social pressures. Researchers in artificial intelligence (AI) also rely on evolutionary models in their work designing autonomous agents and developing decision-making algorithms.
Understanding the theory of evolution, how it has shaped different species, and the way that ecosystems co-evolve together is a fundamental background for working as a wildlife biologist. Zoologists and wildlife biologists study animals and how they interact with their environments, typically through a combination of research in the field, experimental studies, and analysis of biological data and specimens. They are also responsible for developing and implementing conservation programs and initiatives to reduce risks to humans from wildlife and invasive species.
These experts in understanding and managing the natural world must have at least a bachelor’s degree in biology for entry-level roles, and master’s degrees and doctorates are typically required for higher-level jobs and university positions. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, zoologists and wildlife biologists earned a median annual salary of $63,270 per year in 2019.
Yes! Whether you want to understand the basics of the theory of evolution, dive into the ways in which it has created the vast “tree of life” that populates our world, or deepen your understanding of the development and biology of specific species and ecosystems, Coursera offers great courses to meet your needs. You can learn about evolution from top-ranked schools from around the world including Duke University, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of Alberta, and Saint Petersburg State University, or from educators at the famous American Museum of Natural History in New York. Regardless of where you choose to learn from, the ability to learn remotely and on a flexible schedule lets you pursue this fascinating education while maintaining your existing studies, work, or family life.
The skills you may need to have to learn evolution include a basic understanding of biology or experience working in any life science field. It can also help to have skills such as critical thinking, complex problem solving, comfort with scientific and mathematic methodologies, and basic computer research skills.
The kind of people best suited for roles in evolution are curious about the history and future of millions of species that exist on the planet, from plants to animals to humans and everything in between. People best suited for roles in evolution are interested in understanding how the physiology and anatomy of species have evolved and why. Those who are curious about evolutionary medicine, and how diseases have been eradicated or progressed, are also good candidates for roles where a background in evolution may be critical.
There are many common career paths for someone in evolution, the most well-known is to become an evolutionary biologist that studies the changes that happen over time in plants, animals, and organisms. Skills in evolution can be used in career paths such as forensic science and research for pharmaceutical companies as well as in the health care field where research is needed to understand diseases and other health issues. Some evolution students take another career path into ecology and environmental work to study, rehabilitate, and protect wildlife and marine life.
There are many topics you can study that are related to evolution, including genetics and genome sequencing because these biology subjects link to ancestry, including pre-human forms. Genetics of food crops is also an important related subject to study because of the evolution of insecticide-resistant pests and humans’ relationship to genetically modified organisms in the food supply. Another closely related topic you could study is astronomy because it connects to the possible evolution of life on other planets. Learning botany and zoology are also closely related topics to evolution that can enhance your understanding of the subject. Ecology is another major related topic to evolution because the subject may help you better understand biodiversity and conservation of species. A less science-based, but related topic to study is history, from archeology to ancient civilizations, which could all offer a greater understanding of the topic of evolution.