Evolutionary History of Life

The evolutionary history of life on Earth traces the processes by which living and fossil organisms have evolved since life on the planet first originated until the present day. Earth formed about 4.5 Ga (billion years ago) and life appeared on its surface within one billion years. The similarities between all present-day organisms indicate the presence of a common ancestor from which all known species have diverged through the process of evolution.

Microbial mats of coexisting bacteria and archaea were the dominant form of life in the early Archean and many of the major steps in early evolution are thought to have taken place within them. The evolution of oxygenic photosynthesis, around 3.5 Ga, eventually led to the oxygenation of the atmosphere, beginning around 2.4 Ga. The earliest evidence of eukaryotes (complex cells with organelles), dates from 1.85 Ga, and while they may have been present earlier, their diversification accelerated when they started using oxygen in their metabolism. Later, around 1.7 Ga, multicellular organisms began to appear, with differentiated cells performing specialised functions.

The earliest land plants date back to around 450 Ma (million years ago), although evidence suggests that algal scum formed on the land as early as 1.2 Ga. Land plants were so successful that they are thought to have contributed to the late Devonian extinction event. Invertebrate animals appear during the Vendian period, while vertebrates originated about 525 Ma during the Cambrian explosion. During the Permian period, synapsids, including the ancestors of mammals, dominated the land, but the Permian–Triassic extinction event 251 Ma came close to wiping out all complex life. During the recovery from this catastrophe, archosaurs became the most abundant land vertebrates, displacing therapsids in the mid-Triassic; one archosaur group, the dinosaurs, dominated the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods. After the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event 65 Ma killed off the dinosaurs, mammals increased rapidly in size and diversity. Such mass extinctions may have accelerated evolution by providing opportunities for new groups of organisms to diversify.

Fossil evidence indicates that flowering plants appeared and rapidly diversified in the Early Cretaceous (130 to 90 Ma) probably helped by coevolution with pollinating insects. Flowering plants and marine phytoplankton are still the dominant producers of organic matter. Social insects appeared around the same time as flowering plants. Although they occupy only small parts of the insect "family tree", they now form over half the total mass of insects. Humans evolved from a lineage of upright-walking apes whose earliest fossils date from over 6 Ma. Although early members of this lineage had chimpanzee-sized brains, there are signs of a steady increase in brain size after about 3 Ma.

Read more about Evolutionary History Of Life:  Earliest History of Earth, Earliest Evidence For Life On Earth, Origins of Life On Earth, Environmental and Evolutionary Impact of Microbial Mats, Diversification of Eukaryotes, Emergence of Animals, Colonization of Land, Dinosaurs, Birds and Mammals, Flowering Plants, Social Insects, Humans, Mass Extinctions, The Present

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