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Evolution by means of natural selection is the process by which traits that enhance survival and reproduction become more common in successive generations of a population. It has often been called a "self-evident" mechanism because it necessarily follows from three simple facts:
More offspring are produced than can possibly survive, and these conditions produce competition between organisms for survival and reproduction. Consequently, organisms with traits that give them an advantage over their competitors are more likely to pass on their traits to the next generation than those with traits that do not confer an advantage. This teleonomy is the quality whereby the process of natural selection creates and preserves traits that are teleology in biology for the function (biology) roles they perform. Consequences of selection include Assortative mating and genetic hitchhiking.The central concept of natural selection is the fitness (biology) of an organism. Fitness is measured by an organism's ability to survive and reproduce, which determines the size of its genetic contribution to the next generation. However, fitness is not the same as the total number of offspring: instead fitness is indicated by the proportion of subsequent generations that carry an organism's genes. For example, if an organism could survive well and reproduce rapidly, but its offspring were all too small and weak to survive, this organism would make little genetic contribution to future generations and would thus have low fitness.If an allele increases fitness more than the other alleles of that gene, then with each generation this allele will become more common within the population. These traits are said to be "selected for." Examples of traits that can increase fitness are enhanced survival and increased fecundity. Conversely, the lower fitness caused by having a less beneficial or deleterious allele results in this allele becoming rarer—they are "selected against." Importantly, the fitness of an allele is not a fixed characteristic; if the environment changes, previously neutral or harmful traits may become beneficial and previously beneficial traits become harmful. However, even if the direction of selection does reverse in this way, traits that were lost in the past may not re-evolve in an identical form (see Dollos law of irreversibility). However, a re-activation of dormant genes, as long as they have not been eliminated from the genome and were only suppressed perhaps for hundreds of generations, can lead to the re-occurrence of traits thought to be lost like hindlegs in dolphins, teeth in chickens, wings in wingless stick insects, tails and additional nipples in humans etc. "Throwbacks" such as these are known as atavisms.File:Genetic Distribution.svg· Graph 1 shows directional selection, in which a single extreme phenotype is favoured.
· Graph 2 depicts stabilizing selection, where the intermediate phenotype is favoured over the extreme traits.
· Graph 3 shows disruptive selection, in which the extreme phenotypes are favoured over the intermediate.]]Natural selection within a population for a trait that can vary across a range of values, such as height, can be categorised into three different types. The first is directional selection, which is a shift in the average value of a trait over time—for example, organisms slowly getting taller. Secondly, disruptive selection is selection for extreme trait values and often results in bimodal distribution becoming most common, with selection against the average value. This would be when either short or tall organisms had an advantage, but not those of medium height. Finally, in stabilising selection there is selection against extreme trait values on both ends, which causes a decrease in variance around the average value and less diversity. This would, for example, cause organisms to eventually have a similar height.A special case of natural selection is sexual selection, which is selection for any trait that increases mating success by increasing the attractiveness of an organism to potential mates. Traits that evolved through sexual selection are particularly prominent among males of several animal species. Although sexually favoured, traits such as cumbersome antlers, mating calls, large body size and bright colours often attract predation, which compromises the survival of individual males. This survival disadvantage is balanced by higher reproductive success in males that show these Handicap principle, sexually selected traits.Natural selection most generally makes nature the measure against which individuals and individual traits, are more or less likely to survive. "Nature" in this sense refers to an ecosystem, that is, a system in which organisms interact with every other element, Abiotic component as well as Biotic component, in their local environment. Eugene Odum, a founder of ecology, defined an ecosystem as: "Any unit that includes all of the organisms...in a given area interacting with the physical environment so that a flow of energy leads to clearly defined trophic structure, biotic diversity, and material cycles (i.e., exchange of materials between living and nonliving parts) within the system...." Each population within an ecosystem occupies a distinct Ecological niche, or position, with distinct relationships to other parts of the system. These relationships involve the life history of the organism, its position in the food chain and its geographic range. This broad understanding of nature enables scientists to delineate specific forces which, together, comprise natural selection.Natural selection can act at unit of selection, such as genes, cells, individual organisms, groups of organisms and species. Selection can act at multiple levels simultaneously. An example of selection occurring below the level of the individual organism are genes called Transposable element, which can replicate and spread throughout a genome. Selection at a level above the individual, such as group selection, may allow the evolution of cooperation, as discussed below.