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By the end of this section, you will be able to:
  • Explain the different ways natural selection can shape populations
  • Describe how these different forces can lead to different outcomes in terms of the population variation

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 adaptive evolution    . Natural selection does not act on individual alleles, however, but on entire organisms. An individual may carry a very beneficial genotype with a resulting phenotype that, for example, increases the ability to reproduce (fecundity), but if that same individual also carries an allele that results in a fatal childhood disease, that fecundity phenotype will not be passed on to the next generation because the individual will not live to reach reproductive age. Natural selection acts at the level of the individual; it selects for individuals with greater contributions to the gene pool of the next generation, known as an organism’s evolutionary (Darwinian) fitness .

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 relative fitness    , allows researchers to determine which individuals are contributing additional offspring to the next generation, and thus, how the population might evolve.

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.

Stabilizing selection

If natural selection favors an average phenotype, selecting against extreme variation, the population will undergo stabilizing selection    ( [link] ). In a population of mice that live in the woods, for example, natural selection is likely to favor individuals that best blend in with the forest floor and are less likely to be spotted by predators. Assuming the ground is a fairly consistent shade of brown, those mice whose fur is most closely matched to that color will be most likely to survive and reproduce, passing on their genes for their brown coat. Mice that carry alleles that make them a bit lighter or a bit darker will stand out against the ground and be more likely to fall victim to predation. As a result of this selection, the population’s genetic variance will decrease.

Directional selection

When the environment changes, populations will often undergo directional selection    ( [link] ), which selects for phenotypes at one end of the spectrum of existing variation. A classic example of this type of selection is the evolution of the peppered moth in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century England. Prior to the Industrial Revolution, the moths were predominately light in color, which allowed them to blend in with the light-colored trees and lichens in their environment. But as soot began spewing from factories, the trees became darkened, and the light-colored moths became easier for predatory birds to spot. Over time, the frequency of the melanic form of the moth increased because they had a higher survival rate in habitats affected by air pollution because their darker coloration blended with the sooty trees. Similarly, the hypothetical mouse population may evolve to take on a different coloration if something were to cause the forest floor where they live to change color. The result of this type of selection is a shift in the population’s genetic variance toward the new, fit phenotype.

Questions & Answers

what is biology
Dada Reply
The scientific study of life.
juanita
the virus that causes mumps in humans is composed of a protein outer Shell containing a core of DNA
Daniel Reply
Basic science and applied science question about cancer
Joyce Reply
what are the importance of ATPs
Olatunji Reply
How can biology be studied from a microscopic approach to a global approach
Joyce Reply
The large central opening in the poriferan body is called
Chynna Reply
You go for a long walk on a hot day. Give an example of a way in which homeostasis keeps your body healthy.
Joyce Reply
You sweat.
juanita
sweating is your bodies way of keeping you from overheating.
juanita
Thank you
Joyce
what is biology
Neya Reply
biology is the study of life
IYANUYIMIKA
Biology is the study of Life
Brianna
is the branch of science which deals with the of living things.
Peter
what is metabolism
Sangam Reply
hi palz, what's the ?
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hi plz, what's the.
Atta
pls come a again
Gyamfi
Describe the steps and results of reintroducing wolves to Yellowstone National Park.
Natalia Reply
tag and release wolves into Yellowstone. wolves eventually reproduce and the pack grows. as wolves hunt they cull the sick and weak prey. the carcass that is left provides food for other species (scavengers and insect.. etc). this heals the circle of life and contributes to the biodiversity...
Will
before you know it species that are critical to the eco system return. having apex predators is crucial to an ecosystem... it helps run the deer and elk , etc around.
Will
example: there was a species of shrub/ plant that grows along river banks that moose love to eat.. the moose have no predator so they decimate that food source which also helps prevent erosion. when the wolves were reintroduced this changed. oddly enough this plant species started to repopulate in
Will
the areas where wolf feces sat and decayed
Will
which of the following statements about the parts of an egg are false?
Israel Reply
Monotremes include...?
Israel
medicinal plants including microbs
vijay Reply
,medicinal plants including microbes
vijay
what is biology
Siyanbola Reply
study of living organisms...
R0se
study of plants and animals
Divine
what is abiotic and biotic factors?
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Source:  OpenStax, Biology. OpenStax CNX. Feb 29, 2016 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11448/1.10
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