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Although parallel and convergent evolution are discussed extensively in technical articles and textbooks, their meaning can be overlapping, imprecise, and contradictory. The meaning of parallel evolution in much of the evolutionary literature grapples with two separate hypotheses in relation to phenotype and genotype, but often these two hypotheses have been inferred from only one hypothesis, and a number of subsidiary but problematic criteria, in relation to the phenotype. However, examples of parallel evolution of genetic traits that underpin or are at least associated with convergent phenotypes are now emerging. Four criteria for distinguishing parallelism from convergence are reviewed. All are found to be incompatible with any single proposition of homoplasy. Therefore, all homoplasy is equivalent to a broad view of convergence. Based on this concept, all phenotypic homoplasy can be described as convergence and all genotypic homoplasy as parallelism, which can be viewed as the equivalent concept of convergence for molecular data. Parallel changes of molecular traits may or may not be associated with convergent phenotypes but if so describe homoplasy at two biological levels-genotype and phenotype. Parallelism is not an alternative to convergence, but rather it entails homoplastic genetics that can be associated with and potentially explain, at the molecular level, how convergent phenotypes evolve.

Original publication




Journal article


Evol Dev

Publication Date





214 - 227


Animals, Biological Evolution, Echolocation, Photosynthesis, Phylogeny, Pigmentation, Plants