What is variation?

  • The differences in characteristics between individuals of the same species is called variation.

  • Some variation is passed on from parents to offspring, via genes, during reproduction. This is inherited variation.

  • Some variation is the result of differences in the surroundings, or what an individual does. This is called environmental variation.

A guide dog breeder explains the effect of variation on his puppies

What is variation?

Humans, dogs and goldfish are examples of species.

Different species have very different characteristics from each other. For example, dogs have tails and humans do not. Dogs have fur, but goldfish have scales.

The individual members of a species also have differences in characteristics.

For example, humans have different coloured eyes, and dogs have different length tails.

This means that no two members of a species are identical.

The differences between the individuals in a species is called variation.

Genetic and environmental variation

Characteristics in an individual are the result of both genetic and environmental variation.

For example, the weight of a dog depends partly on its genes (inherited) and partly on what it eats (environmental).

The height of a sunflower depends partly on its genes and partly on how much light and water it gets.

Why is variation important?

Variation helps a species to survive, by causing individuals of a species to be genetically and physically different.

How does this help?

If all the individuals of a species were genetically identical they would be vulnerable to the same diseases. If this were the case a single disease could wipe out an entire species!

As a result of their genes, some individuals of a species might have better camouflage, or be able to run faster.

These individuals are more likely to survive. This is called the survival of the fittest.

The members of a species that survive may reproduce. Their offspring are likely to have the desirable characteristics of their parents. This is how species change in evolution.

Variation quiz

Test your knowledge of variation with this quick quiz.

Where next?

Discover more about this topic from around Bitesize.

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