Darwins Finches Essay - 505 Words - StudyMode

For Darwin and his contemporaries, natural selection was in essence synonymous with evolution by natural selection. After the publication of On the Origin of Species, educated people generally accepted that evolution had occurred in some form. However, natural selection remained controversial as a mechanism, partly because it was perceived to be too weak to explain the range of observed characteristics of living organisms, and partly because even supporters of evolution balked at its "unguided" and non-progressive nature, a response that has been characterized as the single most significant impediment to the idea's acceptance.

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Darwin's ideas were inspired by the observations that he had made on the Beagle voyage, and by the work of a political economist, the Reverend Thomas Malthus, who in An Essay on the Principle of Population, noted that population (if unchecked) increases exponentially, whereas the food supply grows only arithmetically; thus, inevitable limitations of resources would have demographic implications, leading to a "struggle for existence". When Darwin read Malthus in 1838 he was already primed by his work as a naturalist to appreciate the "struggle for existence" in nature and it struck him that as population outgrew resources, "favourable variations would tend to be preserved, and unfavourable ones to be destroyed. The result of this would be the formation of new species."

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In 1859, Charles Darwin set out his theory of evolution by natural selection as an explanation for adaptation and speciation. He defined natural selection as the "principle by which each slight variation [of a trait], if useful, is preserved". The concept was simple but powerful: individuals best adapted to their environments are more likely to survive and reproduce. As long as there is some variation between them, there will be an inevitable selection of individuals with the most advantageous variations. If the variations are inherited, then differential reproductive success will lead to a progressive evolution of particular populations of a species, and populations that evolve to be sufficiently different eventually become different species.

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and a suspended monkey in Cambridge at Darwin's honorary LLD ceremony

Variation exists within all populations of organisms. This occurs partly because random mutations cause changes 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. 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 will 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. As opposed to artificial selection, in which humans favour specific traits, in natural selection the environment acts as a sieve through which only certain variations can pass.

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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.

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It was Darwin's genius both to show how all this evidence favored the evolution of species from a common ancestor and to offer a plausible mechanism by which life might evolve. Lamarck and others had promoted evolutionary theories, but in order to explain just how life changed, they depended on speculation. Typically, they claimed that evolution was guided by some long-term trend. Lamarck, for example, thought that life strove over time to rise from simple single-celled forms to complex ones. Many German biologists conceived of life evolving according to predetermined rules, in the same way an embryo develops in the womb. But in the mid-1800s, Darwin and the British biologist Alfred Russel Wallace independently conceived of a natural, even observable, way for life to change: a process Darwin called

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Interestingly, Darwin and Wallace found their inspiration in economics. An English parson named published a book in 1797 called in which he warned his fellow Englishmen that most policies designed to help the poor were doomed because of the relentless pressure of population growth. A nation could easily double its population in a few decades, leading to famine and misery for all.