Durham, NC For the vast majority of plants and animals, the 'bigger is better' view of evolution may not be far off the mark, says a new broad-scale study of natural selection. Organisms with bigger bodies or faster growth rates tend to live longer, mate more and produce more offspring, whether they are deer or damselflies, the authors report.
Researchers working at the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center compiled and reviewed nearly 150 published estimates of natural selection, representing more than 100 species of birds, lizards, snakes, insects and plants. The results confirm that for most plants and animals, larger body size and earlier seasonal timing such as earlier breeding, blooming or hatching confer significant survival advantages.
"It's a very widespread pattern," said co-author Joel Kingsolver of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
What's puzzling, the authors say, is not why the 'bigger is better' model of evolution is so common, but why the 'Goldilocks' model is so rare: If organisms are supposedly well-adapted to their particular circumstances, then why is it so seldom the case that the individuals that survive and reproduce the best are the ones that are not too small, nor too big, but just right?
A classic example is human birth weight. Newborns of intermediate size are more likely to survive than newborns that are extremely large or extremely small. In lieu of driving organisms to be bigger and faster over time, the 'Goldilocks' model also known as stabilizing selection favors moderation, the authors explained. But for the vast majority of organismal traits, this pattern is the exception, not the rule. "Rarely is it the case that the individuals that survive and reproduce the best are the ones in the middle," Kingsolver said.
The result is puzzling because the conventional wisdom is that most creatures are well adapted to the environments in which they live. "When we look at na
|Contact: Robin Ann Smith|
National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent)