“What are we looking at, professor?”
“An animated simulation of evolution in the form of a circular phylogenetic tree. The common ancestor of all living things is represented by the hub of the circular shape. The ever-expanding branches radiating outward from that hub, with their multitude of twigs on each branch, represent species-splitting events, such as when populations of the same species become vicariant.”
The circular phylogenetic tree displayed on the computer monitor in the lab was growing and branching in real time, the snail’s pace of actual evolution speeded by factors of hundreds of millions in this simulation.
The reporter was tapping into her laptop, blogging the interview. She stopped at the word “vicariant” and lifted her eyebrows in inquiry.
“Vicariant — sorry, technical nerd term. It occurs when subpopulations of a single species become widely separated from one another over a significant length of time, during which they have no genetic interchange. In cases like that, should the populations meet again at some later time, it may be that each population has undergone genetic change so significant that they can no longer successfully interbreed; or if they do, they produce sterile offspring. This is a speciation event.”
Tap-tap-tap. “I see. And the purpose of the simulation is?” Tap-tap-tap.
Professor Marcus Multis removed his thick-framed glasses and gazed down with bemusement at the slim fingers tap-dancing across the keyboard. “You’re live-blogging our interview? To whom? Does anyone care?”