Darwin is the father of evolutionary theory because he identified evolutionary patterns and, with Natural Selection, he ascertained the exquisitely ecological ultimate processes that lead to evolution. The proximate processes of evolution he proposed, however, predated the discovery of genetics, the backbone of modern evolutionary theory. The later discovery of the laws of inheritance by Mendel and the rediscovery of Mendel in the early 20th century led to two reforms of Darwinism: Neo-Darwinism and the Modern Synthesis (and subsequent refinements). If Darwin's evolutionary thought required much refinement, his ecological insight is still very modern. In the first edition of The Origin of Species, Darwin did not use either the word “evolution” or the word “ecology”. “Ecology” was not coined until after the publication of the Origin. Evolution, for him, was the origin of varieties, then species, which he referred to as well-marked varieties, whereas, instead of using ecology, he used “the economy of nature”. The Origin contains a high proportion of currently accepted ecological principles. Darwin labelled himself a naturalist. His discipline (natural history) was a blend of ecology and evolution in which he investigated both the patterns and the processes that determine the organization of life. Reductionist approaches, however, often keep the two disciplines separated from each other, undermining a full understanding of natural phenomena that might be favored by blending ecology and evolution through the development of a modern Theory of Natural History based on Darwin's vision of the study of life.
The scientific contribution of Darwin, still agonized in many religious circles, has now been recognized and celebrated by scientists from various disciplines. However, in recent years, several evolutionists have criticized Darwin as outdated, arguing that “Darwinism,” assimilated to the “tree of life,” cannot explain microbial evolution, or else was not operating in early life evolution. These critics either confuse “Darwinism” and old versions of “neo-Darwinism” or misunderstand the role of gene transfers in evolution. The core of Darwin explanation of evolution (variation/selection) remains necessary and sufficient to decipher the history of life. The enormous diversity of mechanisms underlying variations has been successfully interpreted by evolutionists in this framework and has considerably enriched the corpus of evolutionary biology without the necessity to kill the father. However, it remains for evolutionists to acknowledge interactions between cells and viruses (unknown for Darwin) as a major driving force in life evolution.
evolutionary synthesis; variation; natural selection; lateral gene transfer; Darwinian threshold; viruses
Niche construction theory is a relatively new approach in evolutionary biology that seeks to integrate an ecological dimension into the Darwinian theory of evolution by natural selection. It is regarded by many evolutionary biologists as providing a significant revision of the Neo-Darwinian modern synthesis that unified Darwin’s theory of natural and sexual selection with 20th century population genetics. Niche construction theory has been invoked as a processual mediator of social cognitive evolution and of the emergence and evolution of language. I argue that language itself can be considered as a biocultural niche and evolutionary artifact. I provide both a general analysis of the cognitive and semiotic status of artifacts, and a formal analysis of language as a social and semiotic institution, based upon a distinction between the fundamental semiotic relations of “counting as” and “standing for.” I explore the consequences for theories of language and language learning of viewing language as a biocultural niche. I suggest that not only do niches mediate organism-organism interactions, but also that organisms mediate niche-niche interactions in ways that affect evolutionary processes, with the evolution of human infancy and childhood as a key example. I argue that language as a social and semiotic system is not only grounded in embodied engagements with the material and social-interactional world, but also grounds a sub-class of artifacts of particular significance in the cultural history of human cognition. Symbolic cognitive artifacts materially and semiotically mediate human cognition, and are not merely informational repositories, but co-agentively constitutive of culturally and historically emergent cognitive domains. I provide examples of the constitutive cognitive role of symbolic cognitive artifacts drawn from my research with my colleagues on cultural and linguistic conceptualizations of time, and their cultural variability. I conclude by reflecting on the philosophical and social implications of understanding artifacts co-agentively.
biocultural niche construction; language; symbolic cognitive artifact; time concepts; human life course; social institutions
The 200th anniversary of Darwin and the 150th jubilee of the Origin of Species prompt a new look at evolutionary biology. The 1959 Origin centennial was marked by the consolidation of the Modern Synthesis. The edifice of the Modern Synthesis has crumbled, apparently, beyond repair. The hallmark of the Darwinian discourse of 2009 is the plurality of evolutionary processes and patterns. Nevertheless, glimpses of a new synthesis might be discernible in emerging universals of evolution.
Estimates of hybrid fitness have been used as either a platform for testing the potential role of natural hybridization in the evolution of species and species complexes or, alternatively, as a rationale for dismissing hybridization events as being of any evolutionary significance. From the time of Darwin's publication of The Origin, through the neo-Darwinian synthesis, to the present day, the observation of variability in hybrid fitness has remained a challenge for some models of speciation. Yet, Darwin and others have reported the elevated fitness of hybrid genotypes under certain environmental conditions. In modern scientific terminology, this observation reflects the fact that hybrid genotypes can demonstrate genotype × environment interactions. In the current review, we illustrate the development of one plant species complex, namely the Louisiana Irises, into a ‘model system' for investigating hybrid fitness and the role of genetic exchange in adaptive evolution and diversification. In particular, we will argue that a multitude of approaches, involving both experimental and natural environments, and incorporating both manipulative analyses and surveys of natural populations, are necessary to adequately test for the evolutionary significance of introgressive hybridization. An appreciation of the variability of hybrid fitness leads to the conclusion that certain genetic signatures reflect adaptive evolution. Furthermore, tests of the frequency of allopatric versus sympatric/parapatric divergence (that is, divergence with ongoing gene flow) support hybrid genotypes as a mechanism of evolutionary diversification in numerous species complexes.
natural hybridization; habitat selection; hybrid fitness
200 years have now passed since Darwin was born and scientists around the world are celebrating this important anniversary of the birth of an evolutionary visionary. However, the theories of his colleague Lamarck are treated with considerably less acclaim. These theories centre on the tendency for complexity to increase in organisms over time and the direct transmission of phenotypic traits from parents to offspring.
Lamarckian concepts, long thought of no relevance to modern evolutionary theory, are enjoying a quiet resurgence with the increasing complexity of epigenetic theories of inheritance. There is evidence that epigenetic alterations, including DNA methylation and histone modifications, are transmitted transgenerationally, thus providing a potential mechanism for environmental influences to be passed from parents to offspring: Lamarckian evolution. Furthermore, evidence is accumulating that epigenetics plays an important role in many common medical conditions.
Epigenetics allows the peaceful co-existence of Darwinian and Lamarckian evolution. Further efforts should be exerted on studying the mechanisms by which this occurs so that public health measures can be undertaken to reverse or prevent epigenetic changes important in disease susceptibility. Perhaps in 2059 we will be celebrating the anniversary of both Darwin and Lamarck.
Charles Darwin studied floral biology for over 40 years and wrote three major books on plant reproduction. These works have provided the conceptual foundation for understanding floral adaptations that promote cross-fertilization and the mechanisms responsible for evolutionary transitions in reproductive systems. Many of Darwin's insights, gained from careful observations and experiments on diverse angiosperm species, remain remarkably durable today and have stimulated much current research on floral function and the evolution of mating systems. Here I review Darwin's seminal contributions to reproductive biology and provide an overview of the current status of research on several of the main topics to which he devoted considerable effort, including the consequences to fitness of cross- versus self-fertilization, the evolution and function of stylar polymorphisms, the adaptive significance of heteranthery, the origins of dioecy and related gender polymorphisms, and the transition from animal pollination to wind pollination. Post-Darwinian perspectives on floral function now recognize the importance of pollen dispersal and male outcrossed siring success in shaping floral adaptation. This has helped to link work on pollination biology and mating systems, two subfields of reproductive biology that remained largely isolated during much of the twentieth century despite Darwin's efforts towards integration.
adaptation; Charles Darwin; flowers; pollination; mating
Small incremental biological change, winnowed by natural selection over geological time scales to produce large consequences, was Darwin's singular insight that revolutionized the life sciences. His publications after 1859, including the ‘earthworm book’, were all written to amplify and support the evolutionary theory presented in the Origin. Darwin was unable to provide a physical basis for the inheritance of favoured traits because of the absence of genetic knowledge that much later led to the ‘modern synthesis’. Mistaken though he was in advocating systemic ‘gemmules’ as agents of inheritance, Darwin was perceptive in seeking to underpin his core vision with concrete factors that both determine the nature of a trait in one generation and convey it to subsequent generations. This brief review evaluates the molecular genetic literature on earthworms published during the last decade, and casts light on the specific aspects of earthworm evolutionary biology that more or less engaged Darwin: (i) biogeography, (ii) species diversity, (iii) local adaptations and (iv) sensitivity. We predict that the current understanding will deepen with the announcement of a draft earthworm genome in Darwin's bicentenary year, 2009. Subsequently, the earthworm may be elevated from the status of a soil sentinel to that elusive entity, an ecologically relevant genetic model organism.
Darwin; earthworms; evolution; genotypes; biogeography; transcriptomics
Comparative genomics and systems biology offer unprecedented opportunities for testing central tenets of evolutionary biology formulated by Darwin in the Origin of Species in 1859 and expanded in the Modern Synthesis 100 years later. Evolutionary-genomic studies show that natural selection is only one of the forces that shape genome evolution and is not quantitatively dominant, whereas non-adaptive processes are much more prominent than previously suspected. Major contributions of horizontal gene transfer and diverse selfish genetic elements to genome evolution undermine the Tree of Life concept. An adequate depiction of evolution requires the more complex concept of a network or ‘forest’ of life. There is no consistent tendency of evolution towards increased genomic complexity, and when complexity increases, this appears to be a non-adaptive consequence of evolution under weak purifying selection rather than an adaptation. Several universals of genome evolution were discovered including the invariant distributions of evolutionary rates among orthologous genes from diverse genomes and of paralogous gene family sizes, and the negative correlation between gene expression level and sequence evolution rate. Simple, non-adaptive models of evolution explain some of these universals, suggesting that a new synthesis of evolutionary biology might become feasible in a not so remote future.
When Charles Darwin formulated the central principles of evolutionary biology in the Origin of Species in 1859 and the architects of the Modern Synthesis integrated these principles with population genetics almost a century later, the principal if not the sole objects of evolutionary biology were multicellular eukaryotes, primarily animals and plants. Before the advent of efficient gene sequencing, all attempts to extend evolutionary studies to bacteria have been futile. Sequencing of the rRNA genes in thousands of microbes allowed the construction of the three- domain “ribosomal Tree of Life” that was widely thought to have resolved the evolutionary relationships between the cellular life forms. However, subsequent massive sequencing of numerous, complete microbial genomes revealed novel evolutionary phenomena, the most fundamental of these being: (1) pervasive horizontal gene transfer (HGT), in large part mediated by viruses and plasmids, that shapes the genomes of archaea and bacteria and call for a radical revision (if not abandonment) of the Tree of Life concept, (2) Lamarckian-type inheritance that appears to be critical for antivirus defense and other forms of adaptation in prokaryotes, and (3) evolution of evolvability, i.e., dedicated mechanisms for evolution such as vehicles for HGT and stress-induced mutagenesis systems. In the non-cellular part of the microbial world, phylogenomics and metagenomics of viruses and related selfish genetic elements revealed enormous genetic and molecular diversity and extremely high abundance of viruses that come across as the dominant biological entities on earth. Furthermore, the perennial arms race between viruses and their hosts is one of the defining factors of evolution. Thus, microbial phylogenomics adds new dimensions to the fundamental picture of evolution even as the principle of descent with modification discovered by Darwin and the laws of population genetics remain at the core of evolutionary biology.
Darwin; modern synthesis; comparative genomics; tree of life; horizontal gene transfer
Evolution as an idea has a lengthy history, even though the idea of evolution is generally associated with Darwin today. Rebecca Stott provides an engaging and thoughtful overview of this history of evolutionary thinking in her 2013 book, Darwin's Ghosts: The Secret History of Evolution.
Since Darwin, the debate over evolution—both how it takes place and, in a long war of words with religiously-oriented thinkers, whether it takes place—has been sustained and heated. A growing share of this debate is now devoted to examining how evolutionary thinking affects areas outside of biology. How do our lives change when we recognize that all is in flux? What can we learn about life more generally if we study change instead of stasis?
Carter Phipps’ book, Evolutionaries: Unlocking the Spiritual and Cultural Potential of Science's Greatest Idea, delves deep into this relatively new development. Phipps generally takes as a given the validity of the Modern Synthesis of evolutionary biology. His story takes us into, as the subtitle suggests, the spiritual and cultural implications of evolutionary thinking. Can religion and evolution be reconciled? Can evolutionary thinking lead to a new type of spirituality? Is our culture already being changed in ways that we don't realize by evolutionary thinking?
These are all important questions and Phipps book is a great introduction to this discussion. Phipps is an author, journalist, and contributor to the emerging “integral” or “evolutionary” cultural movement that combines the insights of Integral Philosophy, evolutionary science, developmental psychology, and the social sciences. He has served as the Executive Editor of EnlightenNext magazine (no longer published) and more recently is the co-founder of the Institute for Cultural Evolution, a public policy think tank addressing the cultural roots of America's political challenges. What follows is an email interview with Phipps.
The year 2012 marks the 150th anniversary of the publication of Charles Darwin's first botanical book, on the fertilization of orchids (1862), wherein he described pollen grains and outlined his evolutionary principles with respect to plant research. Five decades later, the growth-promoting effect of extracts of Orchid pollen on coleoptile elongation was documented. These studies led to the discovery of a new class of phytohormones, the brassinosteroids (BRs) that were isolated from rapeseed (Brassica napus) pollen. These growth-promoting steroids, which regulate height, fertility, and seed-filling in crop plants such as rice (Oryza sativa), also induce stress- and disease resistance in green algae and angiosperms. The origin and current status of BR-research is described here, with reference to BR-action and -signal transduction, and it is shown that modern high-yield rice varieties with erect leaves are deficient in endogenous BRs. Since brassinosteroids induce pathogen resistance in rice plants and hence can suppress rice blast- and bacterial blight-diseases, genetic manipulation of BR-biosynthesis or -perception may be a means to increase crop production. Basic research on BR activity in plants, such as Arabidopsis and rice, has the potential to increase crop yields further as part of a 21th century ‘green biotech-revolution’ that can be traced back to Darwin's classical breeding experiments. It is concluded that ‘Nothing in brassinosteroid research makes sense except in the light of Darwinian evolution’ and the value of basic science is highlighted, with reference to the genetic engineering of better food crops that may become resistant to a variety of plant diseases.
Biotechnology; brassinosteroids; Charles Darwin; hormone action; signal transduction; steroidal hormones
This year celebrates the 200th aniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin, best known for his theory of evolution summarized in On the Origin of Species. Less well known is that, in the second half of his life, Darwin’s major scientific focus turned towards plants. He wrote several books on plants, the next-to-last of which, The Power of Movement of Plants, published together with his son Francis, opened plants to a new view. Here we amplify the final sentence of this book in which the Darwins proposed that: “It is hardly an exaggeration to say that the tip of the radicle thus endowed [with sensitivity] and having the power of directing the movements of the adjoining parts, acts like the brain of one of the lower animals; the brain being seated within the anterior end of the body, receiving impressions from the sense-organs, and directing the several movements.” This sentence conveys two important messages: first, that the root apex may be considered to be a ‘brain-like’ organ endowed with a sensitivity which controls its navigation through soil; second, that the root apex represents the anterior end of the plant body. In this article, we discuss both these statements.
auxin; cognition; plant neurobiology; plant tropisms; roots; sensory biology; signaling
Species are generally viewed by evolutionists as ‘real’ distinct entities in nature, making speciation appear difficult. Charles Darwin had originally promoted a very different uniformitarian view that biological species were continuous with ‘varieties’ below the level of species and became distinguishable from them only when divergent natural selection led to gaps in the distribution of morphology. This Darwinian view on species came under immediate attack, and the consensus among evolutionary biologists today appears to side more with the ideas of Ernst Mayr and Theodosius Dobzhansky, who argued 70 years ago that Darwin was wrong about species. Here, I show how recent genetic studies of supposedly well-behaved animals, such as insects and vertebrates, including our own species, have supported the existence of the Darwinian continuum between varieties and species. Below the level of species, there are well-defined ecological races, while above the level of species, hybridization still occurs, and may often lead to introgression and, sometimes, hybrid speciation. This continuum is evident, not only across vast geographical regions, but also locally in sympatry. The existence of this continuum provides good evidence for gradual evolution of species from ecological races and biotypes, to hybridizing species and, ultimately, to species that no longer cross. Continuity between varieties and species not only provides an excellent argument against creationism, but also gives insight into the process of speciation. The lack of a hiatus between species and ecological races suggests that speciation may occur, perhaps frequently, in sympatry, and the abundant intermediate stages suggest that it is happening all around us. Speciation is easy!
hybridization; speciation; species concepts
The year 2009 is the 200th anniversary of the publication of Jean-Bapteste Lamarck's Philosophie Zoologique and the 150th anniversary of Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species. Lamarck believed that evolution is driven primarily by non-randomly acquired, beneficial phenotypic changes, in particular, those directly affected by the use of organs, which Lamarck believed to be inheritable. In contrast, Darwin assigned a greater importance to random, undirected change that provided material for natural selection.
The classic Lamarckian scheme appears untenable owing to the non-existence of mechanisms for direct reverse engineering of adaptive phenotypic characters acquired by an individual during its life span into the genome. However, various evolutionary phenomena that came to fore in the last few years, seem to fit a more broadly interpreted (quasi)Lamarckian paradigm. The prokaryotic CRISPR-Cas system of defense against mobile elements seems to function via a bona fide Lamarckian mechanism, namely, by integrating small segments of viral or plasmid DNA into specific loci in the host prokaryote genome and then utilizing the respective transcripts to destroy the cognate mobile element DNA (or RNA). A similar principle seems to be employed in the piRNA branch of RNA interference which is involved in defense against transposable elements in the animal germ line. Horizontal gene transfer (HGT), a dominant evolutionary process, at least, in prokaryotes, appears to be a form of (quasi)Lamarckian inheritance. The rate of HGT and the nature of acquired genes depend on the environment of the recipient organism and, in some cases, the transferred genes confer a selective advantage for growth in that environment, meeting the Lamarckian criteria. Various forms of stress-induced mutagenesis are tightly regulated and comprise a universal adaptive response to environmental stress in cellular life forms. Stress-induced mutagenesis can be construed as a quasi-Lamarckian phenomenon because the induced genomic changes, although random, are triggered by environmental factors and are beneficial to the organism.
Both Darwinian and Lamarckian modalities of evolution appear to be important, and reflect different aspects of the interaction between populations and the environment.
this article was reviewed by Juergen Brosius, Valerian Dolja, and Martijn Huynen. For complete reports, see the Reviewers' reports section.
150 years ago, Heinrich Bronn provided in the first German translation of Charles Darwin's Origin of Species a rather liberal interpretation, even adding his own view of Darwin's ideas in an additional 15th chapter. Ernst Haeckel widely popularized his view of Darwinian evolution based on his reading of this translation. This was long seen - probably incorrectly - as the intellectual root of social Darwinism in Germany.
Attempts to understand how information content can be included in an accounting of the energy flux of the biosphere have led to the conclusion that, in information transmission, one component, the semantic content, or “the meaning of the message,” adds no thermodynamic burden over and above costs arising from coding, transmission and translation. In biology, semantic content has two major roles. For all life forms, the message of the genotype encoded in DNA specifies the phenotype, and hence the organism that is tested against the real world through the mechanisms of Darwinian evolution. For human beings, communication through language and similar abstractions provides an additional supra-phenotypic vehicle for semantic inheritance, which supports the cultural heritages around which civilizations revolve. The following three postulates provide the basis for discussion of a number of themes that demonstrate some important consequences. (i) Information transmission through either pathway has thermodynamic components associated with data storage and transmission. (ii) The semantic content adds no additional thermodynamic cost. (iii) For all semantic exchange, meaning is accessible only through translation and interpretation, and has a value only in context. (1) For both pathways of semantic inheritance, translational and copying machineries are imperfect. As a consequence both pathways are subject to mutation and to evolutionary pressure by selection. Recognition of semantic content as a common component allows an understanding of the relationship between genes and memes, and a reformulation of Universal Darwinism. (2) The emergent properties of life are dependent on a processing of semantic content. The translational steps allow amplification in complexity through combinatorial possibilities in space and time. Amplification depends on the increased potential for complexity opened by 3D interaction specificity of proteins, and on the selection of useful variants by evolution. The initial interpretational steps include protein synthesis, molecular recognition, and catalytic potential that facilitate structural and functional roles. Combinatorial possibilities are extended through interactions of increasing complexity in the temporal dimension. (3) All living things show a behavior that indicates awareness of time, or chronognosis. The ∼4 billion years of biological evolution have given rise to forms with increasing sophistication in sensory adaptation. This has been linked to the development of an increasing chronognostic range, and an associated increase in combinatorial complexity. (4) Development of a modern human phenotype and the ability to communicate through language, led to the development of archival storage, and invention of the basic skills, institutions and mechanisms that allowed the evolution of modern civilizations. Combinatorial amplification at the supra-phenotypical level arose from the invention of syntax, grammar, numbers, and the subsequent developments of abstraction in writing, algorithms, etc. The translational machineries of the human mind, the “mutation” of ideas therein, and the “conversations” of our social intercourse, have allowed a limited set of symbolic descriptors to evolve into an exponentially expanding semantic heritage. (5) The three postulates above open interesting epistemological questions. An understanding of topics such dualism, the élan vital, the status of hypothesis in science, memetics, the nature of consciousness, the role of semantic processing in the survival of societies, and Popper's three worlds, require recognition of an insubstantial component. By recognizing a necessary linkage between semantic content and a physical machinery, we can bring these perennial problems into the framework of a realistic philosophy. It is suggested, following Popper, that the ∼4 billion years of evolution of the biosphere represents an exploration of the nature of reality at the physicochemical level, which, together with the conscious extension of this exploration through science and culture, provides a firm epistemological underpinning for such a philosophy.
DNA; genotype; evolution; chronognosis; semantic content; Popper; evolutionary epistemology; memes
The framework for modern studies of speciation was established as part of the Neo-Darwinian synthesis of the early twentieth century. Here we evaluate this framework in the light of recent empirical and theoretical studies. Evidence from experimental studies of selection, quantitative genetic studies of species’ differences, and the molecular evolution of ‘isolation’ genes, all agree that directional selection is the primary cause of speciation, as initially proposed by Darwin. Likewise, as suggested by Dobzhansky and Mayr, gene flow does hold species together, but probably more by facilitating the spread of beneficial mutants and associated hitchhiking events than by homogenizing neutral loci. Reproductive barriers are important as well in that they preserve adaptations, but as has been stressed by botanists for close to a century, they rarely protect the entire genome from gene flow in recently diverged species. Contrary to early views, it is now clear that speciation can occur in the presence of gene flow. However, recent theory does support the long-held view that population structure and small population size may increase speciation rates, but only under special conditions and not because of the increased efficacy of drift as suggested by earlier authors. Rather, low levels of migration among small populations facilitates the rapid accumulation of beneficial mutations that indirectly cause hybrid incompatibilities.
gene flow; introgression; population size; population subdivision; reproductive isolation; selection; selective sweep; speciation
Biological evolution represents one of the most successful, but also controversial scientific concepts. Ever since Charles Darwin formulated his version of evolution via natural selection, biological sciences experienced explosive development and progress. First of all, although Darwin could not explain how traits of organisms, selected via natural selection, are inherited and passed down along generations; his theory stimulated research in this respect and resulted in the establishment of genetics and still later in the discovery of DNA and genome sequencing some hundred years after his evolutionary theory. Nevertheless, there are several weaknesses in classical Darwinian as well as Neodarwinian gene-centric views of biological evolution. The most serious drawback is its narrow focus: the modern evolutionary synthesis, as formulated in the 20th Century, is based on the concept of gene and on the mathematical/statistical analysis of populations. While Neodarwinism is still generally considered a valid theory of biological evolution, its narrow focus and incompatibility with several new findings and discoveries calls for its update and/or transformation. Either it will be replaced with an updated version or, if not flexible enough, it will be replaced by a new theory. In his book “Evolution — A New View from the 21st Century,”1 James A. Shapiro discusses these problems as well as newly emerging results which are changing our understanding of biological evolution. This new book joins a row of several other recent books highlighting the same issues.2–13
Evolutionary biology rejoices in the diversity of life, but this comes at a cost: other than working in the common framework of neo-Darwinian evolution, specialists in, for example, diatoms and mammals have little to say to each other. Accordingly, their research tends to track the particularities and peculiarities of a given group and seldom enquires whether there are any wider or deeper sets of explanations. Here, I present evidence in support of the heterodox idea that evolution might look to a general theory that does more than serve as a tautology (‘evolution explains evolution’). Specifically, I argue that far from its myriad of products being fortuitous and accidental, evolution is remarkably predictable. Thus, I urge a move away from the continuing obsession with Darwinian mechanisms, which are entirely uncontroversial. Rather, I emphasize why we should seek explanations for ubiquitous evolutionary convergence, as well as the emergence of complex integrated systems. At present, evolutionary theory seems to be akin to nineteenth-century physics, blissfully unaware of the imminent arrival of quantum mechanics and general relativity. Physics had its Newton, biology its Darwin: evolutionary biology now awaits its Einstein.
evolution; convergence; frogs; theropods; E. coli; viruses
In 1963–1964 W. D. Hamilton introduced the concept of inclusive fitness, the only significant elaboration of Darwinian fitness since the nineteenth century. I discuss the origin of the modern fitness concept, providing context for Hamilton's discovery of inclusive fitness in relation to the puzzle of altruism. While fitness conceptually originates with Darwin, the term itself stems from Spencer and crystallized quantitatively in the early twentieth century. Hamiltonian inclusive fitness, with Price's reformulation, provided the solution to Darwin's ‘special difficulty’—the evolution of caste polymorphism and sterility in social insects. Hamilton further explored the roles of inclusive fitness and reciprocation to tackle Darwin's other difficulty, the evolution of human altruism. The heuristically powerful inclusive fitness concept ramified over the past 50 years: the number and diversity of ‘offspring ideas’ that it has engendered render it a fitter fitness concept, one that Darwin would have appreciated.
Darwinian fitness; inclusive fitness; Hamilton's rule; kin selection; social evolution; altruism
One of the classic examples of adaptive radiation under natural selection is the evolution of 15 closely related species of Darwin's finches (Passeriformes), whose primary diversity lies in the size and shape of their beaks. Since Charles Darwin and other members of the Beagle expedition collected these birds on the Galápagos Islands in 1835 and introduced them to science, they have been the subjects of intense research. Many biology textbooks use Darwin's finches to illustrate a variety of topics of evolutionary theory, such as speciation, natural selection and niche partitioning. Today, as this Theme Issue illustrates, Darwin's finches continue to be a very valuable source of biological discovery. Certain advantages of studying this group allow further breakthroughs in our understanding of changes in recent island biodiversity, mechanisms of speciation and hybridization, evolution of cognitive behaviours, principles of beak/jaw biomechanics as well as the underlying developmental genetic mechanisms in generating morphological diversity. Our objective was to bring together some of the key workers in the field of ecology and evolutionary biology who study Darwin's finches or whose studies were inspired by research on Darwin's finches. Insights provided by papers collected in this Theme Issue will be of interest to a wide audience.
Darwin's finches; evolution; speciation; adaptive radiation
In eusocial organisms, some individuals specialize in reproduction and others in altruistic helping. The evolution of eusociality is, therefore, also the evolution of remarkable inequality. For example, a colony of honeybees (Apis mellifera) may contain 50 000 females all of whom can lay eggs. But 100 per cent of the females and 99.9 per cent of the males are offspring of the queen. How did such extremes evolve? Phylogenetic analyses show that high relatedness was almost certainly necessary for the origin of eusociality. However, even the highest family levels of kinship are insufficient to cause the extreme inequality seen in e.g. honeybees via ‘voluntary altruism’. ‘Enforced altruism’ is needed, i.e. social pressures that deter individuals from attempting to reproduce. Coercion acts at two stages in an individual's life cycle. Queens are typically larger so larvae can be coerced into developing into workers by being given less food. Workers are coerced into working by ‘policing’, in which workers or the queen eat worker-laid eggs or aggress fertile workers. In some cases, individuals rebel, such as when stingless bee larvae develop into dwarf queens. The incentive to rebel is strong as an individual is the most closely related to its own offspring. However, because individuals gain inclusive fitness by rearing relatives, there is also a strong incentive to ‘acquiesce’ to social coercion. In a queenright honeybee colony, the policing of worker-laid eggs is very effective, which results in most workers working instead of attempting to reproduce. Thus, extreme altruism is due to both kinship and coercion. Altruism is frequently seen as a Darwinian puzzle but was not a puzzle that troubled Darwin. Darwin saw his difficulty in explaining how individuals that did not reproduce could evolve, given that natural selection was based on the accumulation of small heritable changes. The recognition that altruism is an evolutionary puzzle, and the solution was to wait another 100 years for William Hamilton.
eusociality; worker policing; inclusive fitness theory; voluntary altruism; enforced altruism; acquiescence
Darwin proposed an explicitly aesthetic theory of sexual selection in which he described mate preferences as a ‘taste for the beautiful’, an ‘aesthetic capacity’, etc. These statements were not merely colourful Victorian mannerisms, but explicit expressions of Darwin's hypothesis that mate preferences can evolve for arbitrarily attractive traits that do not provide any additional benefits to mate choice. In his critique of Darwin, A. R. Wallace proposed an entirely modern mechanism of mate preference evolution through the correlation of display traits with male vigour or viability, but he called this mechanism natural selection. Wallace's honest advertisement proposal was stridently anti-Darwinian and anti-aesthetic. Most modern sexual selection research relies on essentially the same Neo-Wallacean theory renamed as sexual selection. I define the process of aesthetic evolution as the evolution of a communication signal through sensory/cognitive evaluation, which is most elaborated through coevolution of the signal and its evaluation. Sensory evaluation includes the possibility that display traits do not encode information that is being assessed, but are merely preferred. A genuinely Darwinian, aesthetic theory of sexual selection requires the incorporation of the Lande–Kirkpatrick null model into sexual selection research, but also encompasses the possibility of sensory bias, good genes and direct benefits mechanisms.
sexual selection; natural selection; aesthetics; beauty; adaptation
As Dobzhansky wrote, nothing in biology makes sense outside the context of the evolutionary theory, and this truth has not been sufficiently explored yet by medicine. We comment on Shanks and Pyles' recently published paper, Evolution and medicine: the long reach of "Dr. Darwin", and discuss some recent advancements in the application of evolutionary theory to carcinogenesis. However, we disagree with Shanks and Pyles about the usefulness of animal experiments in predicting human hazards. Based on the darwinian observation of inter-species and inter-individual variation in all biological functions, Shanks and Pyles suggest that animal experiments cannot be used to identify hazards to human health. We claim that while the activity of enzymes may vary among individuals and among species, this does not indicate that critical events in disease processes occurring after exposure to hazardous agents differ qualitatively between animal models and humans. In addition, the goal is to avoid human disease whenever possible and with the means that are available at a given point in time. Epidemics of cancer could have been prevented if experimental data had been used to reduce human exposures or ban carcinogenic chemicals. We discuss examples.