Pace of evolution hypotheses (1 of 4)
In many cases, we seem to observe "bursts" of evolution in the fossil record. In this example, in a lower rock layer, you see ancestor 1. In the next rock layer, you see species 2 and 3. Species 2 looks the same as ancestor 1. Species 3 is morphologically distinct, but is clearly also descended from ancestor 1. What happened?
Pace of evolution hypotheses (2 of 4)
Hypothesis 1: Phyletic gradualism - slow and steady divergence of lineages. The "burst" of evolution is a geological illusion. It only looks like a burst because a lot of time say, 5 million years passed between the times when the two rock layers were laid down. In this period of time, species 3 gradually diverged from ancestor 1 through a series of transitional forms, but these transitional forms were not preserved.
Pace of evolution hypotheses (4 of 4)
Hypothesis 3: Macromutation a big mutation produces sudden evolutionary change skipping over transitional forms. The "burst" of evolution is really a burst there was a lot of evolutionary change in a very short amount of time. Species 3 was produced by a mutation that radically changed the offspring of ancestor 1 in many ways. Such extreme mutants are sometimes called "hopeful monsters." This hypothesis is consistent with the fossils; however, based on other observations, we do not have clear evidence that such extreme yet adaptive mutations generally occur. Nevertheless, it is possible that mutations affecting development have far-reaching phenotypic effects and have played an important role in the evolution of life.