Adaptation from the Perspective of Optimality

  • Henry S. Horn


adaptive and optimal arguments in botany are often scorned as tautological, Panglossian, teleological speculations about artifacts of history. Indeed, they are all that and more, but this is not as devastating a criticism as it might seem. In this article, I shall first make some idiosyncratic comments about the differences between plants and animals that seem to underlie some of the differences between botanists and zoologists in their use of adaptive and optimal arguments. I shall then review the formal argument of evolution by natural selection, distinguishing the circular from the noncircular parts and examining the role of optimality in generating testable statements about adaptive patterns. Various criteria for optimal models will follow, along with other techniques for generating adaptive predictions. Returning to the formal argument of adaptation, I shall show that evolutionary history plays a surprisingly small role in the origin and maintenance of contemporary adaptive patterns. Finally, I shall summarize some intriguing problems and the prospects for their solution, again emphasizing the peculiarities of plants that will not yield to metaphorical appeals to the ideas of population biology in animals.


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Copyright information

© Columbia University Press 1979

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  • Henry S. Horn

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