4-2-4. Adaptive Evolution
Natural selection only acts on the population’s heritable traits: selecting for beneficial alleles and thus increasing their frequency in the population, while selecting against deleterious alleles and thereby decreasing their frequency—a process known as
Fitness is often quantifiable and is measured by scientists in the field. However, it is not the absolute fitness of an individual that counts, but rather how it compares to the other organisms in the population. This concept, called
There are several ways selection can affect population variation: stabilizing selection, directional selection, diversifying selection, frequency-dependent selection, and sexual selection. As natural selection influences the allele frequencies in a population, individuals can either become more or less genetically similar and the phenotypes displayed can become more similar or more disparate.
If natural selection favors an average phenotype, selecting against extreme variation, the population will undergo
When the environment changes, populations will often undergo
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In science, sometimes things are believed to be true, and then new information comes to light that changes our understanding. The story of the peppered moth is an example: the facts behind the selection toward darker moths have recently been called into question. Read this article to learn more.
Sometimes two or more distinct phenotypes can each have their advantages and be selected for by natural selection, while the intermediate phenotypes are, on average, less fit. Known as
In recent years, factories have become cleaner, and less soot is released into the environment. What impact do you think this has had on the distribution of moth color in the population?
Another type of selection, called
In this scenario, orange males will be favored by natural selection when the population is dominated by blue males, blue males will thrive when the population is mostly yellow males, and yellow males will be selected for when orange males are the most populous. As a result, populations of side-blotched lizards cycle in the distribution of these phenotypes—in one generation, orange might be predominant, and then yellow males will begin to rise in frequency. Once yellow males make up a majority of the population, blue males will be selected for. Finally, when blue males become common, orange males will once again be favored.
Negative frequency-dependent selection serves to increase the population’s genetic variance by selecting for rare phenotypes, whereas positive frequency-dependent selection usually decreases genetic variance by selecting for common phenotypes.
Males and females of certain species are often quite different from one another in ways beyond the reproductive organs. Males are often larger, for example, and display many elaborate colors and adornments, like the peacock’s tail, while females tend to be smaller and duller in decoration. Such differences are known as
Sexual dimorphism varies widely among species, of course, and some species are even sex-role reversed. In such cases, females tend to have a greater variance in their reproductive success than males and are correspondingly selected for the bigger body size and elaborate traits usually characteristic of males.
The selection pressures on males and females to obtain matings is known as sexual selection; it can result in the development of secondary sexual characteristics that do not benefit the individual’s likelihood of survival but help to maximize its reproductive success. Sexual selection can be so strong that it selects for traits that are actually detrimental to the individual’s survival. Think, once again, about the peacock’s tail. While it is beautiful and the male with the largest, most colorful tail is more likely to win the female, it is not the most practical appendage. In addition to being more visible to predators, it makes the males slower in their attempted escapes. There is some evidence that this risk, in fact, is why females like the big tails in the first place. The speculation is that large tails carry risk, and only the best males survive that risk: the bigger the tail, the more fit the male. This idea is known as the
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In 1915, biologist Ronald Fisher proposed another model of sexual selection: the Fisherian runaway model, which suggests that selection of certain traits is a result of sexual preference.
In both the handicap principle and the good genes hypothesis, the trait is said to be an
No Perfect Organism
Natural selection is a driving force in evolution and can generate populations that are better adapted to survive and successfully reproduce in their environments. But natural selection cannot produce the perfect organism. Natural selection can only select on existing variation in the population; it does not create anything from scratch. Thus, it is limited by a population’s existing genetic variance and whatever new alleles arise through mutation and gene flow.
Natural selection is also limited because it works at the level of individuals, not alleles, and some alleles are linked due to their physical proximity in the genome, making them more likely to be passed on together (linkage disequilibrium). Any given individual may carry some beneficial alleles and some unfavorable alleles. It is the net effect of these alleles, or the organism’s fitness, upon which natural selection can act. As a result, good alleles can be lost if they are carried by individuals that also have several overwhelmingly bad alleles; likewise, bad alleles can be kept if they are carried by individuals that have enough good alleles to result in an overall fitness benefit.
Furthermore, natural selection can be constrained by the relationships between different polymorphisms. One morph may confer a higher fitness than another, but may not increase in frequency due to the fact that going from the less beneficial to the more beneficial trait would require going through a less beneficial phenotype. Think back to the mice that live at the beach. Some are light-colored and blend in with the sand, while others are dark and blend in with the patches of grass. The dark-colored mice may be, overall, more fit than the light-colored mice, and at first glance, one might expect the light-colored mice be selected for a darker coloration. But remember that the intermediate phenotype, a medium-colored coat, is very bad for the mice—they cannot blend in with either the sand or the grass and are more likely to be eaten by predators. As a result, the light-colored mice would not be selected for a dark coloration because those individuals that began moving in that direction (began being selected for a darker coat) would be less fit than those that stayed light.
Finally, it is important to understand that not all evolution is adaptive. While natural selection selects the fittest individuals and often results in a more fit population overall, other forces of evolution, including genetic drift and gene flow, often do the opposite: introducing deleterious alleles to the population’s gene pool. Evolution has no purpose—it is not changing a population into a preconceived ideal. It is simply the sum of the various forces described in this chapter and how they influence the genetic and phenotypic variance of a population.
Because natural selection acts to increase the frequency of beneficial alleles and traits while decreasing the frequency of deleterious qualities, it is adaptive evolution. Natural selection acts at the level of the individual, selecting for those that have a higher overall fitness compared to the rest of the population. If the fit phenotypes are those that are similar, natural selection will result in stabilizing selection, and an overall decrease in the population’s variation. Directional selection works to shift a population’s variance toward a new, fit phenotype, as environmental conditions change. In contrast, diversifying selection results in increased genetic variance by selecting for two or more distinct phenotypes.
Other types of selection include frequency-dependent selection, in which individuals with either common (positive frequency-dependent selection) or rare (negative frequency-dependent selection) are selected for. Finally, sexual selection results from the fact that one sex has more variance in the reproductive success than the other. As a result, males and females experience different selective pressures, which can often lead to the evolution of phenotypic differences, or sexual dimorphisms, between the two.
Figure 1. In recent years, factories have become cleaner, and less soot is released into the environment. What impact do you think this has had on the distribution of moth color in the population?
Figure 1. Moths have shifted to a lighter color.
Which type of selection results in greater genetic variance in a population?
When males and females of a population look or act differently, it is referred to as ________.
The good genes hypothesis is a theory that explains what?
Give an example of a trait that may have evolved as a result of the handicap principle and explain your reasoning.
The peacock’s tail is a good example of the handicap principle. The tail, which makes the males more visible to predators and less able to escape, is clearly a disadvantage to the bird’s survival. But because it is a disadvantage, only the most fit males should be able to survive with it. Thus, the tail serves as an honest signal of quality to the females of the population; therefore, the male will earn more matings and greater reproductive success.
List the ways in which evolution can affect population variation and describe how they influence allele frequencies.
There are several ways evolution can affect population variation: stabilizing selection, directional selection, diversifying selection, frequency-dependent selection, and sexual selection. As these influence the allele frequencies in a population, individuals can either become more or less related, and the phenotypes displayed can become more similar or more disparate.
good genes hypothesis