Environmental heterogeneity is invoked as a key explanatory factor in the adaptive evolution of a surprisingly wide range of phenomena. This article aims to analyze this explanatory scheme of categorizing traits or properties as adaptations to environmental heterogeneity ("heterogeneity adaptations"). First it is suggested that this scheme can be understood as a reaction to how heterogeneity adaptations were discounted or ignored in the modern synthesis. Then a positive account is proposed, distinguishing between two broad categories of adaptation to environmental heterogeneity: properties selected for by well-defined patterns of environmental heterogeneity, and properties that help organisms exploit novel patterns of environmental heterogeneity.
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Consider, for instance, Godfrey-Smith’s environmental complexity thesis: “The function of cognition is to enable the agent to deal with environmental complexity” (Godfrey-Smith 1996). Or consider Kanazawa’s hypothesis that general intelligence (g) is an adaptation to "novel" environmental conditions (Kanazawa 2004).
An alternative hypothesis is that prokaryotes and eukaryotes have a common ancestor that was neither a prokaryote nor an eukaryote (Forterre 2013). Forterre proposes that, “the ancestors of archaea (and bacteria) escaped protoeukaryotic predators by invading high temperature biotopes, triggering their reductive evolution toward the 'prokaryotic' phenotype” (Forterre 2013, p. 1).
This is a reformulation of Levins (1968), but without discussion of the case of “fine-grained heterogeneity” (i.e., temporal heterogeneity shorter than generation time, and spatial heterogeneity smaller than habitat spatial scale). This is sufficient for purposes of this article; for more details see Levins (1968, pp. 18ff).
Levins terms this "coarse-grained" heterogeneity (Levins 1968, p. 18).
Adaptive strategies at the level of the individual are adaptive to the environment of individuals; whereas those at the level of the population are adaptive to the environment of the population. For our purposes here, the environment of the population can be understood to consist of the sum total of the environments of the individual.
More precisely: the fitness impact of live trees is “screened off” (sensu Salmon 1984) by the fitness impact of dead trees. So live trees qua live trees (and not just potential dead trees) were not part of the external environment.
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Desmond, H. Adapting to Environmental Heterogeneity: Selection and Radiation. Biol Theory (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13752-021-00373-y
- Adaptive radiation
- Environmental heterogeneity
- Environmental novelty
- Selective environment