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  1. Biology. the gradual change in certain characteristics exhibited by members of a series of adjacent populations of organisms of the same species.
  2. Linguistics. (in systemic linguistics) a scale of continuous gradation; continuum.

Origin of cline

1935–40; < Greek klī́nein to lean1
Related formsclin·al, adjectiveclin·al·ly, adverb
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Examples from the Web for clines

Historical Examples

  • The relative length of tail also provides gradients or clines.

    Speciation in the Brazilian Spiny Rats

    Joo Moojen

  • Also there are geographic gradients or clines, in number of folds.

  • Actually, however, none of the clines has an even slope and the possibilities for subdivision therefore are limited.

    American Weasels

    E. Raymond Hall

  • The application of the name streatori is difficult because it was based on a specimen from a place where two clines cross.

    American Weasels

    E. Raymond Hall

  • They were placed in the Union depot to guard the ammunition, Captain Clines at the head?

British Dictionary definitions for clines


  1. a continuous variation in form between members of a species having a wide variable geographical or ecological range
Derived Formsclinal, adjectiveclinally, adverb

Word Origin

C20: from Greek klinein to lean


  1. Patsy, original name Virginia Patterson Hensley . 1932–63, US country singer; her bestselling records include "Walking After Midnight", "I Fall to Pieces", and "Leavin' On Your Mind"
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for clines



1938, in biological use, back-formation from incline or from Greek klinein "to slope, to lean" (see lean (v.)). Middle English had clinen (v.) "to bend, bow," from Old French cliner, from Latin clinare.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

clines in Science


  1. A gradual change in an inherited characteristic across the geographic range of a species, usually correlated with an environmental transition such as altitude, temperature, or moisture. For example, the body size in a species of warm-blooded animals tends to be larger in cooler climates (a latitudinal cline), while the flowering time of a plant may tend to be later at higher altitudes (an altitudinal cline). In species in which the gene flow between adjacent populations is high, the cline is typically smooth, whereas in populations with restricted gene flow the cline usually occurs as a series of relatively abrupt changes from one group to the next.
The American Heritage® Science Dictionary Copyright © 2011. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.