Natural and Artificial Selection
Biological Change in Wild & Domestic Animals
CLASS NOTES from Science Prof Online
What Is Natural Selection?
Natural selection is the mechanism of evolution, the process in nature by which only the organisms that are best adapted to their environment tend to survive and reproduce, transmitting their genetic characteristics to the next generation. Individuals less well adapted to their environment tend to be eliminated, where environment represents the combined biological and physical influences.
Article Summary: Natural selection is the driving force of evolution. The environment selects the winners and losers. In artificial selection we are the shapers of other living things.
Comparison of Natural and Artificial Selection
Selective breeding in dogs has resulted in breeds dramatically different from their wolf ancestor and from each other.
You have free access to a large collection of materials used in a college-level introductory Cell Biology Course. The Virtual Cell Biology Classroom provides a wide range of free educational resources including Power Point Lectures, Study Guides, Review Questions and Practice Test Questions.
SPO is a FREE science education website. Donations are key in helping us provide this resource with fewer ads.
(This donation link uses PayPal on a secure connection.)
Portions of this article originally appeared on Suite101 online magazine.
Page last updated: 5/2013
Natural Selection Example: The Peppered Moth
The peppered moth (Biston betularia) is a temperate nocturnal moth species that provides a great example of natural selection.
The Peppered Moth Pre-industrial Revolution: The common color of peppered moths was originally light grey (Biston betularia f. typica), and this color type represented the predominant form in England prior to the beginning of the industrial revolution. The moth’s light grey color closely matched the lichen-covered trees in their environment. (Lichens are a slow growing life form that you can find on the bark of many trees and in decomposing wood).
There was also a genetic color variant in the moth population that resulted in some very dark colored moths (Biston betularia f. carbonaria) but these dark-colored moths were relatively rare. Their numbers remained low because when they landed on the light grey lichen-covered tress, these moths were easy targets for predators.
The Peppered Moth After the Advent of Industry: Early coal-based industry was extremely dirty. Around large cities, everything was essentially covered in soot. This high level of pollution killed the light grey lichens on trees and the bark became much darker in appearance.
When the light-colored peppered moths landed on the same trees they had always landed on, they were extremely visible against the dark bark, and easy targets for predators. In this environment, the dark colored moth variant more closely matched to color of the trees and was now harder for predators to spot.
Over generations, the polluted environment continued to favor darker moths, and they progressively became more common. By the late 19th century, 98% of the moths near cities were black.
Biston betularia in an Era of Modern, Cleaner Industry: Modern air pollution controls have cleaned up the environment compared to the early days of the industrial revolution. A cleaner environment has allowed the lichens to grown back, and the trees have returned to being lighter in color. Now, natural selection favors lighter moth varieties so they have become the most common and the dark-colored variant is again rare.
Artificial Selection Example: Dog Breeding
Artificial selection is when we, humans, act as the “environmental pressure.” An example is when we choose dogs with certain traits and breed them together to accentuate the traits we desire.
All modern domestic dogs, no matter how different they are in appearance, from Chihuahua to Great Dane, all belong to the same species, Canis lupus familiaris. The originator of today’s domestic dog was the gray wolf (Canis lupus), and by incrementally selecting for certain traits, we have created a variety of dogs that differ widely in appearance and temperament.
- Brown, Bryson (2007) Evolution: A Historical Perspective. Greenwood Press
- Campbell & Reece (2005) Biology, 7th Edition. Pearson