Do ecological time and evolutionary time ever overlap? If so, what are some examples?

1 Answer
Mar 10, 2016


For most larger species, ecological time happens much faster than evolutionary changes. Microbes might be an exception.


There is really only one sense of "time" on Earth and this is driven by the length of our day and the time it takes the Earth to make a revolution around the sun ( 1 year).

Most ecosystems operate on a minute to minute, day to day, year to year basis in terms of surviving and reproducing and trying to pass on their genes to the next generation. This also depends on the average life span of a given species. For example a mosquito and its ecosystem probably operates on a scale of weeks to months as their lifespan is only a few months. Conversely, an elephant may live to be 50 or more, and hence its ecological timeframe would be on this scale.

Evolutionary changes usually happen quite slowly, again for larger complex organisms like elephants, and so changes to elephants might be on the order of thousands of years. In contrast, it has been documented that a new species of mosquito has evolved to live in the London UK underground tube system and this only happened in the last 50 years or so.

In contrast, viruses and bacteria can evolve over the course of a few weeks or months, which makes things like getting the formula for flu vaccinations difficult to predict as they evolve so fast.