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In evolutionary biology, Saltationism (from Latin, saltus, "leap") is a set of evolutionary theories which "holds that the evolution of species proceeds in major steps by the abrupt transformation of an ancestral species into a descendant species of a different type, rather than by the gradual accumulation of small changes."[1].

In other words, the evolutionary transformation of a species occurs suddenly which allows biological evolution to abruptly occur within an extremely short period of time. Saltationism is mainly the opposite of gradualism. Saltationism maintains the view that mutations build up rapidly in a species' gene pool, thus allowing total speciation to happen abruptly.

An example of saltationism in evolutionary thought was Goldschmidt's hopeful monster theory.[2] Punctuated equilibrium was originally a form of saltationism, but was later declared a contemporary of Phyletic gradualism.[3]


Baron Georges Cuvier (1769-1832), an old catastrophist, anti-evolutionist, comparative anatomist and father of paleontology, was convinced, by the fossil record, that new groups were created to replace their predecessors, extinct in cataclysmic events. [4] The Dutch botanist Hugo de Vries, on its publication in two volumes The Mutation Theory (1900-1903) postulated that evolution, especially the origin of species, may occur more frequently with large-scale changes instead of Darwinian gradualism basically suggesting an saltationism. For de Vries pangens were the units of inheritance. To him, the new innovative features arise from new pangens by the very nature of his appearance quickly and randomly. These new features (monstrosities) were subject to natural selection in populations spreading rapidly and generating new species.[5] The idea that changes must have occurred in large jumps between species due to macromutation was suggested by German paleontologist Otto Schindewolf and then by geneticist Richard Goldschmidt.[6] Goldschmidt published his ideas in 1940 in his book The Material Basis of Evolution.[4] The idea saltationism, according to Eldredge, came to be attributed to him and Steve Gould, but according to him, they never ran the risk of follow this route.[6]

See Also

  2. Eldredge, Niles (1995). Reinventing Darwin: The Great Debate at the High Table of Evolutionary Theory. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.. p. 27. ISBN 0-471-30301-1. 
  3. Ernst Mayr, 1982a. Speciation and macroevolution. Evolution 36, page 1128
  4. 4.0 4.1 Eldredge, Niles (1985). Time Frames: The Rethinking of Darwinianian Evolution and the Theory of Punctuated Equilibria. New York: Simon and Schuster. ISBN 0-7167-3963-1. 
  5. Schwartz, Jeffrey M (1999). Sudden Origins: Fossils, Genes and the Origin of the Species. New Tork: John Wiley & Sons. p. 191. ISBN 0-471-32985-1. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 Eldredge, Niles (2000). The Pattern of Evolution. New York: W. H. Freeman and Company. p. 20. ISBN 0-7167-3963-1.