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By the end of this section, you will be able to:
  • Describe the four basic causes of evolution: natural selection, mutation, genetic drift, and gene flow
  • Explain how each evolutionary force can influence the allele frequencies of a population

The Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium principle says that allele frequencies in a population will remain constant in the absence of the four factors that could change them. Those factors are natural selection, mutation, genetic drift, and migration (gene flow). In fact, we know they are probably always affecting populations.

Natural selection

Natural selection has already been discussed. Alleles are expressed in a phenotype. Depending on the environmental conditions, the phenotype confers an advantage or disadvantage to the individual with the phenotype relative to the other phenotypes in the population. If it is an advantage, then that individual will likely have more offspring than individuals with the other phenotypes, and this will mean that the allele behind the phenotype will have greater representation in the next generation. If conditions remain the same, those offspring, which are carrying the same allele, will also benefit. Over time, the allele will increase in frequency in the population.


Mutation is a source of new alleles in a population. Mutation is a change in the DNA sequence of the gene. A mutation can change one allele into another, but the net effect is a change in frequency. The change in frequency resulting from mutation is small, so its effect on evolution is small unless it interacts with one of the other factors, such as selection. A mutation may produce an allele that is selected against, selected for, or selectively neutral. Harmful mutations are removed from the population by selection and will generally only be found in very low frequencies equal to the mutation rate. Beneficial mutations will spread through the population through selection, although that initial spread is slow. Whether or not a mutation is beneficial or harmful is determined by whether it helps an organism survive to sexual maturity and reproduce. It should be noted that mutation is the ultimate source of genetic variation in all populations—new alleles, and, therefore, new genetic variations arise through mutation.

Genetic drift

Another way a population’s allele frequencies can change is genetic drift ( [link] ), which is simply the effect of chance. Genetic drift is most important in small populations. Drift would be completely absent in a population with infinite individuals, but, of course, no population is this large. Genetic drift occurs because the alleles in an offspring generation are a random sample of the alleles in the parent generation. Alleles may or may not make it into the next generation due to chance events including mortality of an individual, events affecting finding a mate, and even the events affecting which gametes end up in fertilizations. If one individual in a population of ten individuals happens to die before it leaves any offspring to the next generation, all of its genes—a tenth of the population’s gene pool—will be suddenly lost. In a population of 100, that 1 individual represents only 1 percent of the overall gene pool; therefore, it has much less impact on the population’s genetic structure and is unlikely to remove all copies of even a relatively rare allele.

Questions & Answers

what are the properties of lipids?
Isiah Reply
explain why a fresh water fish excrete ammonia
Leonard Reply
plz answer my question
sorry i meant it has a nucleous unlike plant cells lol
What are eukaryotic cells?
Nwosueke Reply
cell with no nucleous so not a plant cell
eukaryotic cells are membrane bound organelles that have a membrane bound nucleus
where does the cell get energy for active transport processes?
A'Kaysion Reply
IDK maybe glucose
what is synapsis
Adepoju Reply
how many turns are required to make a molecule of sucrose in Calvin cycle
Amina Reply
why Calvin cycle occurs in stroma
why do humans enhale oxygen and exhale carbondioxide?
Maryam Reply
why do humans enhale oxygen and exhale carbondioxide? For the purpose of breaking down the food
what is allele
uzoka Reply
process of protein synthesis
what is cell
Zulf Reply
a cell is a smallest basic, structural and functional unit of life that is capable of self replication
why does a fresh water fish excrete ammonia
plz answer my question
Ammonia is a toxic colorless gas and when its inside the fish biological system is converted to a less toxic compound then excreted in the form of urea. However too much ammonia will kill the fish " Ammonia Poisoning " which is a very common disease among fish.
what is cytoplasm
uzoka Reply
cytoplasm is fluid of cell.
how many major types of Cloning
Saeed Reply
comparative anatomy of gymnosperms?
Meenakshi Reply
anatomy of gymnosperms
how genes are regulated
Ainjue Reply
what is storage of glycogen
Student Reply
glycogen is a protein content

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Source:  OpenStax, Concepts of biology. OpenStax CNX. Feb 29, 2016 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11487/1.9
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