Natural selection is the process by which favorable traits that are heritable become more common in successive generations of a population of reproducing organisms, and unfavorable traits that are heritable become less common. Natural selection acts on the phenotype, or the observable characteristics of an organism, such that individuals with favorable phenotypes are more likely to survive and reproduce than those with less favorable phenotypes. If these phenotypes have a genetic basis, then the genotype associated with the favorable phenotype will increase in frequency in the next generation. Over time, this process can result in adaptations that specialize organisms for particular ecological niches and may eventually result in the emergence of new species.
Natural selection is one of the cornerstones of modern biology. The term was introduced by Charles Darwin in his groundbreaking 1859 book The Origin of Species in which natural selection was described by analogy to artificial selection, a process by which animals with traits considered desirable by human breeders are systematically favored for reproduction. The concept of natural selection was originally developed in the absence of a valid theory of inheritance; at the time of Darwin's writing, nothing was known of modern genetics. Although Gregor Mendel, the father of modern genetics, was a contemporary of Darwin's, his work would lie in obscurity until the early 20th century. The union of traditional Darwinian evolution with subsequent discoveries in classical and molecular genetics is termed the modern evolutionary synthesis. Although other mechanisms of molecular evolution, such as the neutral theory advanced by Motoo Kimura, have been identified as important causes of genetic diversity, natural selection remains the single primary explanation for adaptive evolution.
Last updated by Nelson Mar 5, 2009.