Skip to main content

On fitness

Abstract

The concept of fitness, central to population genetics and to the synthetic theory of evolution, is discussed. After a historical introduction on the origin of this concept, the current meaning of it in population genetics is examined: a cause of the selective process and its quantification. Several difficulties arise for its exact definition. Three adequacy criteria for such a definition are formulated. It is shown that it is impossible to formulate an adequate definition of fitness respecting these criteria. The propensity definition of fitness is presented and rejected. Finally it is argued that fitness is a conceptual device, a useful tool, only for descriptive purposes of selective processes, changing from case to case, and thus devoid of any substantial physical counterpart. Any attempt to its reification is an apport to the metaphysical load evolutionary theory has inherited from Natural Theology.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

References

  • Ahmed, S. and Hodgkin, J.: 2000, 'MRT-2 Checkpoint Protein is Required for Germline Immortality and Telomere Replication in C. elegans', Nature 403, 159–164.

    Google Scholar 

  • Andersson, M.: 1994, Sexual Selection, Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ.

    Google Scholar 

  • Birkhead, T.R. and Moller, A.P.: 1998, Sperm Competition and Sexual Selection, Academic Press, San Diego, London, Boston, New York, Sydney, Tokyo, Toronto.

    Google Scholar 

  • Birkhead, T., Schwalbl, H. and Burke, T.: 2000, 'Testosterone and Maternal Effects of Genotype-integrating Mechanisms and Function', TREE (Trends in Ecology and Evolution) 15(3), 86–87.

    Google Scholar 

  • Brandon, R.N.: 1978, 'Adaptation and Evolutionary Theory', Studies in History and Philosophy of Science 9, 181–206.

    Google Scholar 

  • Brandon, R.N.: 1990, Adaptation and Environment., Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ.

    Google Scholar 

  • Brandon, R.N. and Beatty, J.: 1984, 'The Propensity Interpretation of “Fitness”-No Interpretation is No Substitute', Philosophy of Science 51, 342–347.

    Google Scholar 

  • Brittnacher, J.C. and Ganetsky, B.: 1984, 'On the Components of Segregation Distortion in Drosophila melanogaster. III. Nature of Enhancer of SD', Genetics 107, 423–434.

    Google Scholar 

  • Burd, M. and Callahan, H.S.: 2000, 'What Does Male Function Hypothesis Claim?', Journal of Evolutionary Biology 13, 735–742.

    Google Scholar 

  • Burian, R.: 1983, 'Adaptation', in M. Greene (ed.), Dimensions of Darwinism, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, MA, pp. 287–314.

    Google Scholar 

  • Christian, E., Davis, A.A., Thomas, S.D. and Benjamin, I.J.: 2000, 'Maternal Effect of Hsfl on Reproductive Success', Nature 407, 693–694.

    Google Scholar 

  • Crow, J.F. and Kimura, M.: 1970, An Introduction to Population Genetics Theory, Harper and Row, New York, Evanston, London.

    Google Scholar 

  • Darwin, C.: 1859, On the Origin of Species, A Facsimile of the First Edition with an Introduction by Ernst Mayr. Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA (1964).

    Google Scholar 

  • Fisher, R.: 1930, The Genetical Theory of Natural Selection, Reprinted in a Complete Variorum Edition with H. Bennett's Introduction (1999), Oxford University Press, UK.

    Google Scholar 

  • Gillespie, J.H.: 1973, 'Polymorphism in Random Environments', Theoretical Population Biology 4, 193–195.

    Google Scholar 

  • Gillespie, J.H.: 1974, 'Natural Selection for Within-generation Variance in Offspring Number', Genetics 76, 601–606.

    Google Scholar 

  • Gillespie, J.H.: 1975, 'Natural Selection for Within-generation Variance in Offspring Number', Genetics 81, 403–413.

    Google Scholar 

  • Gillespie, J.H.: 1977, 'Natural Selection for Variances in Offspring Number. A New Evolutionary Principle', American Naturalist 111, 1010–1014.

    Google Scholar 

  • Gillois, M.: 1996, 'Fitness', in P. Tort (ed.), Dictionnaire du Darwinisme et de l'Évolution (Vol. 2), Presses Universitaires de France, pp. 1676–1688.

  • Gould, S.J. and Lewontin, R.C.: 1979, 'The Spandrels of San Marco and the Panglossian Paradigm: A Critique to the Adaptationist Programme', Proceedings of the Royal Society, London Ser. B 205, 581–598.

    Google Scholar 

  • Hamilton, W.D.: 1964, 'The Genetical Evolution of Social Behaviour, I', Journal of Theoretical Biology 7, 1–16 {Reprinted in The Collected Papers of D.W. Hamilton: Narrow Roads of Gene Land Vol. 1, Evolution of Social Behaviour, 1995, W.H. Freeman/ Spektrum, Oxford, New York, Heidelberg}.

    Google Scholar 

  • Hartl, D.L.: 1980, 'Genetics Dissection of Segregation Distortion. III. Unequal Recovery of Reciprocal Recombinants', Genetics 96, 685–696.

    Google Scholar 

  • Hartl, D.L. and Clarck, A.G.: 1989, Principles of Population Genetics, 2nd Edition, Sinauer, Sunderland, MA.

    Google Scholar 

  • Hartl, D.L. and Hiraizumi, Y.: 1976, 'Segregation Distortion', in M. Ashburner and E. Novitski (eds.), Genetics and Biology of Drosophila, Vol. 1b, Academic Press, New York, pp. 615–666

    Google Scholar 

  • Jacob, F.: 1977, 'Evolution and Tinkering', Science 196, 1161–1166.

    Google Scholar 

  • Krimbas, C.B.: 1984, 'On Adaptation, Neo-Darwinian Tautology, and Population Fitness', Evolutionary Biology 17, 1–57.

    Google Scholar 

  • Krimbas, C.B. and Powell, J.R.: 1992, 'Introduction', in C.B. Krimbas and J.R. Powell (eds.), Drosophila Inversion Polymorphism, CRC Press, Boca Raton, Ann Arbor, London, Tokyo, pp. 1–52

    Google Scholar 

  • Lewontin, R.C.: 1965, 'Selection for Colonizing Ability', in H.G. Baker and G.L. Stebbins (eds.), The Genetics of Colonizing Species, Academic Press, New York, London, pp. 77–94.

    Google Scholar 

  • Lewontin, R.C. and Ariew, A.: 2002, The Confusion of Fitness, MS in preparation.

  • Lewontin, R.C. and Dunn, L.C.: 1960, 'The Evolutionary Dynamics of a Polymorphism in the House Mouse', Genetics 45, 705–722.

    Google Scholar 

  • Lotka, A.J.: 1956, Elements of Mathematical Biology, Dover, New York, Reprinting Elements of Physical Biology (1925), Williams and Wilkins, Baltimore.

    Google Scholar 

  • Mac Arthur, R.H. and Wilson, E.O.: 1967, The Theory of Island Biogeography, Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ.

    Google Scholar 

  • Malthus, T.R.: 1798, An Essay on the Principle of Population, as it Affects the Future Improvement of Society, J. Johnson, London.

    Google Scholar 

  • Mariol, M.-C.: 1981, 'Genetic and Developmental Studies of a New Grandchildless Mutant of Drosophila melanogaster. Molecular and General Genetics 181, 505–511.

    Google Scholar 

  • Maynard Smith, J.: 1991, 'Byerly and Michod on Fitness', Biology and Philosophy 6, 37.

    Google Scholar 

  • MerÇot, H., Atland, A., Jacques, M. and Montchamp-Moreau, C.: 1995, 'Sex-ratio Distortion in Drosophila simulans: A Co-ocurrence of a Meiotic Drive and Suppressor of Drive', Journal of Evolutionary Biology 8, 283–300.

    Google Scholar 

  • Michod, R.E.: 1999, Darwinian Dynamics, Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ.

    Google Scholar 

  • Mills S. and Beatty, J.: 1979, 'The Propensity Interpretation of Fitness', Philosophy of Science 46, 263–286.

    Google Scholar 

  • Niki, Y. and Okada, M.: 1981, 'Isolation and Characterization of Grandchildless-like Mutants in Drosophila melanogaster', Wlhelm Roux's Archives 190, 1–10.

    Google Scholar 

  • Nishida, H. and Sawada, K.: 2001, 'Macho-1 Encodes a Localized mRNA Ascidian Eggs that Specifies Muscle Fate during Embryogenesis', Nature 409, 724–729.

    Google Scholar 

  • Paul, D.: 1992, 'Fitness: Historical Perspectives', in E. Fox Keller and E.A. Lloyd (eds.), Keywords in Evolutionary Biology, Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA, pp. 112–114.

    Google Scholar 

  • Pollak, E.: 1978, 'With Selection for Fecundity the Mean Fitness Does Not Necessarily Increase', Genetics 90, 383–389.

    Google Scholar 

  • Pourquie, O.: 2001, 'A Macho Way to Make Muscles', Nature 409, 679–680.

    Google Scholar 

  • Price, G.R.: 1995, 'The Nature of Selection', Journal of Theoretical Biology 175, 389–396.

    Google Scholar 

  • Reik, W. and Walter, J.: 2001, 'Genomic Imprinting: Parental Influence on the Genome', Nature Reviews, Genetics 2, 21–32.

    Google Scholar 

  • Reznick, D.A., Bryga, H. and Endler, J.A.: 1990, 'Experimentally Induced Life-history Evolution in a Natural Population', Nature 346, 357–359.

    Google Scholar 

  • Silver, L.M.: 1985, 'Mouse t Haplotypes', Annual Review of Genetics 19, 179–208.

    Google Scholar 

  • Sober, E.: 2001, 'The Two Faces of Fitness', in R. Singh, C.B. Krimbas, D. Paul and J. Beatty (eds.), Thinking About Evolution, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, New York, Oakleigh, Madrid, pp. 309–321

    Google Scholar 

  • Spencer H.: 1864, Principles of Biology. Vol. A, Williams and Norgate, London (1st Edition).

    Google Scholar 

  • Spencer H.: 1898, Principles of Biology. Vol. A, Williams and Norgate, London (2nd Edition).

    Google Scholar 

  • Spurway, H.: 1948, 'Genetics and Cytology of Drosophila subobscura IV. An Extreme Example of Delay in Gene Action, Causing Sterility', J. Genet. 49, 126–140.

    Google Scholar 

  • Srb, A.M. and Owen, R.D.: 1952, General Genetics, W.H. Freeman & Co, San Francisco, London.

    Google Scholar 

  • Sturtevant, A.H. and Beadle, G.W.: 1940, An Introduction to Genetics, W.B. Saunders Co.

  • Suley, A.C.E.: 1953, 'Genetics of Drosophila subobscura VIII. Studies on the Mutant Grandchildless', J. Genet. 51, 375–405.

    Google Scholar 

  • Temin, R.G. and Marthas, M.: 1984, 'Factors Influencing the Effect of Segregation Distortion in Natural Populations of Drosophila melanogaster', Genetics 107, 375–393.

    Google Scholar 

  • Thierry-Mieg, D.: 1982, 'Paralog, a Control Mutant in Drosophila melanogaster', Genetics 100, 209–237.

    Google Scholar 

  • Van Valen, L.: 1973, 'A New Evolutionary Law', Evolutionary Theory 1, 1–30.

    Google Scholar 

  • Van Valen, L.: 1976, 'Energy and Evolution', Evolutionary Theory 1, 179–229.

    Google Scholar 

  • Verhulst, P.F.: 1838, Correspondence Mathematique et Physique PublicÉe par A. Quetelet, Bruxelles.

  • Wolf, J.B. and Wade, M.J.: 2001, 'On the Assignment of Fitness to Parents and Offspring: Whose Fitness Is It and When Does It Matter?', Journal of Evolutionary Biology 14, 347–356.

    Google Scholar 

  • Wright, S.: 1969, Evolution and Genetics of Populations. Vol. 2. The Theory of Gene Frequencies, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

    Google Scholar 

  • Young, S.S.Y.: 1967, 'A Proposition on the Population Dynamics of the Sterile t Alleles in the House Mouse', Evolution 21, 190–198.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Krimbas, C.B. On fitness. Biology & Philosophy 19, 185–203 (2004). https://doi.org/10.1023/B:BIPH.0000024402.80835.a7

Download citation

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1023/B:BIPH.0000024402.80835.a7

  • Fitness
  • Population genetics
  • Theory of evolution