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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

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A plant in the understory of a forest displays a segmented stem and slender leaves arranged in a whorl. It is probably....
Israel Reply
How did the development of a vascular system contribute to the increase in size of plants?
If a flower lacked a megasporangium and microsporangium, what type of gametes would not form?
Seed plants are.. A. all homosporous B. mostly homosporous with some heterosporous C. mostly heterosporous with some homosporous D. all heterosporous
Besides the seed, what other major structure diminishes a plant's reliance on water for reproduction?
what role did the adaptations of seed and pollen play in the development and expansion of seed plants?
Some cycads are considered endangered species and their trade is severely restricted. Customs officials stop suspected smugglers who claim that the plants in their possession are palm trees, not cycads. How would a botanist distinguish between the two types of plants?
What are the two structures that allow angiosperms to be the dominant form of plant life in most terrestrial ecosystems?
how are carbohydrates,proteins and fats formed from triose phosphate
fonyuy Reply
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Two events happen when calcium binds to troponin.
which of the following statements about plant division is false?
Israel Reply
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The process plants use to convert sunlight into food (energy).
Some other organisms use
types of photosynthesis
ps1 and ps2

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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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