Adaptive Evolution

Directional Selection

When the environment changes, populations will often undergo directional selection (Figure), 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. However, as soot began spewing from factories, the trees darkened, and the light-colored moths became easier for predatory birds to spot. Over time, the frequency of the moth's melanic form 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.

Link to Learning

In science, we sometimes believe some things are true, and then new information becomes available that changes our understanding. The peppered moth story is an example: some scientists recently have questioned the facts behind the selection toward darker moths. Read this article to learn more.

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