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Continuous Variation vs. Discontinuous Variation: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Harlon Moss || Published on December 20, 2023
Continuous variation refers to gradual differences across a range (e.g., height). Discontinuous variation refers to distinct, separate categories (e.g., blood types).

Key Differences

Continuous variation refers to traits that show a range of forms, like height or skin color. Discontinuous variation, on the other hand, includes traits that fall into distinct categories, like blood types or eye color.
Continuous variation often results from the influence of many genes (polygenic inheritance). Discontinuous variation typically results from a single gene or a few genes, leading to clearly defined characteristics.
Environmental factors greatly influence continuous variation, leading to a wide spectrum of phenotypes. In contrast, discontinuous variation is less influenced by the environment and shows clear-cut genetic traits.
Traits showing continuous variation can be measured and quantified, such as weight or intelligence. Traits with discontinuous variation are categorical, like the presence or absence of a certain genetic disorder.
In continuous variation, intermediates between extremes are common. Discontinuous variation, however, does not typically have intermediates; traits are distinctly separate.

Comparison Chart

Nature of Traits

Gradual, spectrum of forms
Distinct, categorical forms

Genetic Influence

Often polygenic (many genes)
Typically monogenic (single gene)

Environmental Influence



Quantifiable (e.g., height, weight)
Categorical (e.g., blood type, eye color)

Intermediate Forms

Common (e.g., varying heights)
Rare (e.g., distinct blood types)

Continuous Variation and Discontinuous Variation Definitions

Continuous Variation

Variation in a trait across a spectrum.
Height in humans is an example of continuous variation.

Discontinuous Variation

Characteristics less influenced by the environment.
Earlobe attachment is an inherited discontinuous variation.

Continuous Variation

Phenotypes that are measurable and quantifiable.
Body weight is a classic case of continuous variation.

Discontinuous Variation

Variation without intermediate forms.
The presence or absence of a widow's peak is a discontinuous variation.

Continuous Variation

Gradual differences in a characteristic.
Skin color exhibits continuous variation.

Discontinuous Variation

Categorical and non-quantifiable traits.
The ability to roll one's tongue demonstrates discontinuous variation.

Continuous Variation

Variation influenced by environmental factors.
Continuous variation in plant growth is affected by sunlight and water.

Discontinuous Variation

Variation with distinct, separate categories.
Blood types are a form of discontinuous variation.

Continuous Variation

Traits influenced by multiple genes.
Intelligence shows continuous variation due to many genetic factors.

Discontinuous Variation

Traits often determined by a single gene.
Pea plants' flower color is a discontinuous variation.


What is discontinuous variation?

It refers to traits that fall into distinct categories.

Are discontinuous traits influenced by the environment?

Generally, they are less affected by environmental factors.

Can continuous variation be measured?

Yes, traits can be quantified.

How are traits in continuous variation inherited?

Through multiple genes (polygenic inheritance).

How is discontinuous variation inherited?

Typically from a single gene or a few genes.

Can environmental factors affect continuous variation?

Yes, they significantly influence it.

Are discontinuous traits measurable?

They are categorical, so not in the same way.

What is continuous variation?

It's a gradual range of differences in a trait.

Give an example of discontinuous variation.

Blood types are a classic example.

Give an example of continuous variation.

Human height is an example.

What role do genes play in discontinuous variation?

A single gene or a few genes dictate these traits.

Are continuous traits common in nature?

Yes, they are quite common.

Can continuous variation change over time?

Yes, especially under environmental influences.

Is weight a continuous variation?

Yes, it varies along a spectrum.

Is discontinuous variation stable over generations?

Generally, it remains consistent across generations.

Are there intermediates in discontinuous variation?

No, traits are distinct and separate.

Are discontinuous traits rare?

Not necessarily rare, but less common than continuous traits.

Does continuous variation have intermediates?

Yes, intermediates are common.

Is eye color a discontinuous variation?

Yes, as it falls into distinct categories.

What role do genes play in continuous variation?

Multiple genes contribute to these traits.
About Author
Written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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