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The sources of adaptive variation

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Original languageEnglish
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B-Biological Sciences
Volume284
Issue number1855
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 31 May 2017

Abstract

The role of natural selection in the evolution of adaptive phenotypes has undergone constant probing by evolutionary biologists, employing both theoretical and empirical approaches. As Darwin noted, natural selection can act together with other processes, including random changes in the frequencies of phenotypic differences that are not under strong selection, and changes in the environment, which may reflect evolutionary changes in the organisms themselves. As understanding of genetics developed after 1900, the new genetic discoveries were incorporated into evolutionary biology. The resulting general principles were summarised by Julian Huxley in his 1942 book Evolution, The Modern Synthesis. Here, we examine how recent advances in genetics, developmental biology and molecular biology, including epigenetics, relate to today’s understanding of the evolution of adaptations. We illustrate how careful genetic studies have repeatedly shown that apparently puzzling results in a wide diversity of organisms involve processes that are consistent with neo-Darwinism. They do not support important roles in adaptation for processes such as directed mutation or the inheritance of acquired characters, and therefore no radical revision of our understanding of the mechanism of adaptive evolution is needed.

    Research areas

  • Modern Synthesis , Extended Evolutionary Synthesis, mutation, natural selection, epigenetic inheritance

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