Understanding Evolution: your one-stop source for information on evolution
Resource library Teaching materials Evolution 101
 
EVOLUTION 101

Introduction

Patterns

Mechanisms

Microevolution

Speciation

Macroevolution

The big issues

en Espanol en Español     print print

Misconceptions about natural selection

Because natural selection can produce amazing adaptations, it's tempting to think of it as an all-powerful force, urging organisms on, constantly pushing them in the direction of progress — but this is not what natural selection is like at all.

First, natural selection is not all-powerful; it does not produce perfection. If your genes are "good enough," you'll get some offspring into the next generation — you don't have to be perfect. This should be pretty clear just by looking at the populations around us: people may have genes for genetic diseases, plants may not have the genes to survive a drought, a predator may not be quite fast enough to catch her prey every time she is hungry. No population or organism is perfectly adapted.

Second, it's more accurate to think of natural selection as a process rather than as a guiding hand. Natural selection is the simple result of variation, differential reproduction, and heredity — it is mindless and mechanistic. It has no goals; it's not striving to produce "progress" or a balanced ecosystem.

Formula for natural selection

Evolution does not work this way
Evolution does not work this way.
 

This is why "need," "try," and "want" are not very accurate words when it comes to explaining evolution. The population or individual does not "want" or "try" to evolve, and natural selection cannot try to supply what an organism "needs." Natural selection just selects among whatever variations exist in the population. The result is evolution.

At the opposite end of the scale, natural selection is sometimes interpreted as a random process. This is also a misconception. The genetic variation that occurs in a population because of mutation is random — but selection acts on that variation in a very non-random way: genetic variants that aid survival and reproduction are much more likely to become common than variants that don't. Natural selection is NOT random!



previous
Adaptation

  next
Coevolution


Mechanisms
page 19 of 22
previous | next  >


More details
Read more about how natural selection does not produce perfectly engineered traits or perfect populations (i.e., populations with no deleterious genes).


Evo examples
Learn more about natural selection in context:


Teach this
Teach your students about natural selection:

Find additional lessons, activities, videos, and articles that focus on natural selection.