In biology, natural selection is the gradual process by which biological traits become either more or less common in a population as a function of the effect of inherited traits on the differential reproductive success of organisms interacting with their environment. It is a key mechanism of evolution.
The term "natural selection" was popularized by Charles Darwin who intended it to be compared with artificial selection, now more commonly referred to as selective breeding.
How it works
- Variation exists within all populations of organisms.
- This occurs partly because random mutations occur in the genome of an individual organism, and these mutations can be passed to offspring.
- Throughout the individuals’ lives, their genomes interact with their environments to cause variations in traits. (The environment of a genome includes the molecular biology in the cell, other cells, other individuals, populations, species, as well as the abiotic environment.)
- Individuals with certain variants of the trait may survive and reproduce more than individuals with other variants.
- Therefore the population evolves.
Other factors that influence
Factors that affect reproductive success are also important, an issue that Charles Darwin developed in his ideas on sexual selection, for example.
Natural selection acts on the phenotype, or the observable characteristics of an organism, but the genetic (heritable) basis of any phenotype that gives a reproductive advantage may become more common in a population (see allele frequency).
Over time, this process can result in populations that specialize for particular ecological niches and may eventually result in the emergence of new species.
In other words, natural selection is an important process (though not the only process) by which evolution takes place within a population of organisms.
Natural selection can be contrasted with artificial selection, in which humans intentionally choose specific traits (although they may not always get what they want).
In natural selection there is no intentional choice. In other words, artificial selection is teleological (has a final purpose) and natural selection is not teleological.
A corner stone of modern biology
Natural selection is one of the cornerstones of modern biology. The term was introduced by Darwin in his influential 1859 book On the Origin of Species, in which natural selection was described as analogous to artificial selection, a process by which animals and plants with traits considered desirable by human breeders are systematically favored for reproduction.
The concept of natural selection was originally developed in the absence of a valid theory of heredity; at the time of Darwin's writing, nothing was known of modern genetics.
The union of traditional Darwinian evolution with subsequent discoveries in classical and molecular genetics is termed the modern evolutionary synthesis. Natural selection remains the primary explanation for adaptive evolution.