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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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Danai
is the study of the living organisms
Odwa
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is the study of living organisem
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it has helped me to know things scientifically
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Muntari Reply
Biology is the study of living things.
Long
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Long
cytology is exam of single cell it is mainly used to diagnose or screen for cancer
Shaik
the study of cell
isaac
cytology is simply the study of cell structure and function
David
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diffireshete between an atomy
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Ssali
is a substance that initiates a chemical reaction without itself being affected
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Nakabuye Reply
because cells are made up of smallest level o living organisms
Chief
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Nakabuye
Taxonomy is the study of classification of organisms
Nalwoga
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Joan Reply
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Joan
Is the inside of your nose
Nakabuye
things about the nasal cavity include; your nose contains your breathe your nose humidifies the air you breathe your nose cleans the air you also breathe
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details about the euglena
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Anatomy is the of organisms and its external environment
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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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