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selection

selection

[si-lek-shuhn]
selection. In Darwinism, the mechanism of natural selection is considered of major importance in the process of evolution. Popular formulations sometimes envisage a struggle for existence in which direct competition for mates or for various factors in the environment (e.g., food, water, and suitable space) counteracts the tendency toward overproduction of plants and animals resulting from the process of reproduction. But there are diverse ways other than direct struggle through which those organisms better adapted to the environment can survive and reproduce more successfully than those less fitted. A special form of natural selection, sexual selection, is also stressed in Darwinism. It attempts to account for secondary sexual characteristics that are not necessarily valuable in the struggle for existence. It assumes that the female selects as a mate one having the most highly developed of such characteristics, e.g., elaborate plumage or superior song, thereby perpetuating those characteristics. However, this interpretation is now questioned by many scientists. Artificial selection, the selection by humans of individuals best suited for their purposes, is common in plant and animal breeding.

In biology, the preferential survival and reproduction or preferential elimination of individuals with certain genotypes, by means of natural or artificial controlling factors. The theory of evolution by natural selection was proposed by Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace in 1858. Artificial selection differs from natural selection in that inherited variations in a species are manipulated by humans through controlled breeding in order to create qualities economically or aesthetically desirable to humans, rather than useful to the organism in its natural environment.

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Process that results in adaptation of an organism to its environment by means of selectively reproducing changes in its genotype. Variations that increase an organism's chances of survival and procreation are preserved and multiplied from generation to generation at the expense of less advantageous variations. As proposed by Charles Darwin, natural selection is the mechanism by which evolution occurs. It may arise from differences in survival, fertility, rate of development, mating success, or any other aspect of the life cycle. Mutation, gene flow, and genetic drift, all of which are random processes, also alter gene abundance. Natural selection moderates the effects of these processes because it multiplies the incidence of beneficial mutations over generations and eliminates harmful ones, since the organisms that carry them leave few or no descendants. Seealso selection.

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In the context of evolution, certain traits or alleles of a species may be subject to selection. Under selection, individuals with advantageous or "adaptive" traits tend to be more successful than their peers reproductively--meaning they contribute more offspring to the succeeding generation than others do. When these traits have a genetic basis, selection can increase the prevalence of those traits, because offspring will inherit those traits from their parents. When selection is intense and persistent, adaptive traits become universal to the population or species, which may then be said to have evolved.

Overview

Whether or not selection takes place depends on the conditions in which the individuals of a species find themselves. Adults, juveniles, embryos, and even eggs and sperm may undergo selection. Factors fostering selection include limits on resources (nourishment, habitat space, mates) and the existence of threats (predators, disease, adverse weather). Biologists often refer to such factors as selective pressures.

Natural selection is the most familiar type of selection by name. The breeding of dogs, cows and horses, however, represents "artificial selection." Subcategories of natural selection are also sometimes distinguished. These include sexual selection, ecological selection, stabilizing selection, disruptive selection and directional selection (more on these below).

Selection occurs only when the individuals of a population are diverse in their characteristics--or more specifically when the traits of individuals differ with respect to how well they equip them to survive or exploit a particular pressure. In the absence of individual variation, or when variations are selectively neutral, selection does not occur.

Meanwhile, selection does not guarantee that advantageous traits or alleles will become prevalent within a population. Through genetic drift, such traits may become less common or disappear. In the face of selection even a so-called deleterious allele may become universal to the members of a species. This is a risk primarily in the case of "weak" selection (e.g. an infectious disease with only a low mortality rate) or small populations.

Though deleterious alleles may sometimes become established, selection may act "negatively" as well as "positively." Negative selection decreases the prevalence of traits that diminish individuals' capacity to succeed reproductively (i.e. their fitness), while positive selection increases the prevalence of adaptive traits.

In biological discussions, traits subject to negative selection are sometimes said to be "selected against," while those under positive selection are said to be "selected for," as in the sentence Desert conditions select for drought tolerance in plants and select against shallow root architectures.

Types and subtypes

Patterns of selection

Aspects of selection may be divided into effects on a phenotype and their causes. The effects are called patterns of selection, and do not necessarily result from particular causes (mechanisms); in fact each pattern can arise from a number of different mechanisms. Stabilizing selection favors individuals with intermediate characteristics while its opposite, disruptive selection, favors those with extreme characteristics; directional selection occurs when characteristics lie along a phenotypic spectrum and the individuals at one end are more successful; and balancing selection is a pattern in which multiple characteristics may be favored.

Mechanisms of selection

Distinct from patterns of selection are mechanisms of selection; for example, disruptive selection often is the result of disassortative sexual selection, and balancing selection may result from frequency-dependent selection and overdominance.

Further reading

  • Bell, Graham (1997). Selection: The Mechanism of Evolution. New York: Chapman & Hall. (2nd edition published in 2008 by Oxford University Press, 553 p., ISBN 0198569726)

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