I encountered two different attitudes towards macroevolution:

  • The first one included long-term microevolution such as the evolution of Cetacea.
  • The second one included only macroevolution in terms of group-selection - that is for example the evolution of altruistic behaviour (the groups - families or tribes survived more likely if they were altruistic and shared the resources).

What about for example evolution of the parental instinct? Would it be considered a macroevolutionary (because it is about the evolution of families) or a microevolutionary trait?

And in general, am I getting macroevolution right with the second attitude?

  • $\begingroup$ Your first definition of macroevolution is correct. Macroevolution is really not specific to group selection but included any evolutionary process (including neutral processes). $\endgroup$
    – Remi.b
    Commented Apr 15, 2016 at 14:47
  • $\begingroup$ Can you please link to where did you encounter the term macroevolution that excluded any process that was not group-selection? I suppose it was a paper talking about long term consequence of group selection but while focusing on that, they probably did not want to exclude other processes from the definition of macroevolution. $\endgroup$
    – Remi.b
    Commented Apr 15, 2016 at 14:48

1 Answer 1


Is there a difference?

Yes, they are quite different things.

What is group selection?

Group selection is an view of evolution where selection acts at the level of the group, rather than the individual. It suggests that selection is mediated by fitness of the population, and leads to conclusions of things occurring for "the good of the species". It is generally excepted that group selection arguments can rarely be invoked (but see haplodiploid social insects and kin selection). There is a long and controversial history to group selection and it's well worth reading about in further detail if you are interested in the history of science!

What is macroevolution?

Macroevolution is the evolution which occurs at larger scales, things like speciation, extinction, and the history of life. It often involves comparing species or lineages for example.

"Macroevolution generally refers to evolution above the species level."

Microevolution on the other hand is, generally considered, evolution which occurs within lineages, or (more often) within populations. Researchers of microevolution would consider problems of adaptation for example.

"Microevolution is evolution on a small scale — within a single population."

Macro- or microevolutionary trait?

I've never heard anyone refer to something in this way, traits can be studied in both micro- and macroevolutionary contexts.


You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .