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Variation and classification

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Inherited & environmental

Some variation within a species is inherited, and some variation is due to the environment.

Inherited causes of variation

Variation in a characteristic that is a result of genetic inheritance from the parents is called inherited variation.

Children usually look a little like their father, and a little like their mother, but they will not be identical to either of their parents. This is because they get half of their inherited features from each parent.

Each egg cell and each sperm cell contains half of the genetic information needed for an individual. When these join at fertilisation a new cell is formed with all the genetic information needed for an individual.

Here are some examples of inherited variation in humans:

  • eye colour

  • hair colour

  • skin colour

  • lobed or lobeless ears.

Gender is inherited variation too, because whether you are male or female is a result of the genes you inherited from your parents.

Shows someone with blue eyes, someone with brown eyes and someone with green eyes
Shows two ears. One is lobed, the other is lobeless

Environmental causes of variation

Characteristics of animal and plant species can be affected by factors such as climate, diet, accidents, culture and lifestyle. For example, if you eat too much you will become heavier, and if you eat too little you will become lighter. A plant in the shade of a big tree will will grow taller as it tries to reach more light.

Variation caused by the surroundings is called environmental variation. Here are some other examples of features that show environmental variation:

  • your language and religion

  • flower colour in hydrangeas - these plants produce blue flowers in acidic soil and pink flowers in alkaline soil.

Both types together

Some features vary because of a mixture of inherited causes and environmental causes. For example, identical twins inherit exactly the same features from their parents. But if you take a pair of twins, and twin 'A' is given more to eat than twin 'B', twin 'A' is likely to end up heavier.

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