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Adaptation and Natural Selection

  Adaptation | Adaptive compromise | Coevolution | Convergent evolution | Heritable variation | Natural and sexual selection

Natural selection is the cornerstone of Darwin's theory of evolution; adaptations are the traits that allow organisms to survive the selection process. This set of resources includes books, articles, and Web links that explore various aspects of these pivotal interrelated concepts.


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Coral Reef ConnectionsCoral Reef Connections Dive in and explore what makes this beautiful world so fragile. Discover how coevolution has shaped the ecological relationships among reef creatures.

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Sex and the Single GuppySex and the Single Guppy Play in our streams and see how exhibitionism has an evolutionary payoff in this simulation of Endler's experiment.

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The Mating GameThe Mating Game Help our contestants pass their genes down the evolutionary line as you discover the varied mating behaviors of living things.

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Evolution of Camouflage

Evolution of Camouflage
This segment from Evolution: "Darwin's Dangerous Idea" illustrates the remarkable camouflage of a praying mantis against its leafy backdrop.

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Evolution of the Eye

Evolution of the Eye
Zoologist Dan-Erik Nilsson demonstrates how the complex human eye could have evolved from simple light-sensitive cells. From Evolution: "Darwin's Dangerous Idea."

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Is Intelligent Life Inevitable?

Is Intelligent Life Inevitable?
Does intelligence have to look human? Decide for yourself in this poll.

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Adaptation and Natural Selection


How the Woodpecker Avoids a Headache

How the Woodpecker Avoids a Headache
This diagram describes the specialized functions and structures that allow a woodpecker to live off insects burrowed in trees.

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Adaptation and Natural Selection


Mimicry: The Orchid and the Bee

Mimicry: The Orchid and the Bee
In this photograph, a horned bee attempts to mate with an Ophrys orchid, which has evolved to resemble a female bee.

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Adaptation and Natural Selection


Adaptation

Adaptation
This online encyclopedia entry provides a good starting point for the beginner interested in exploring the concept of evolutionary adaptation. Hosted by Encarta.com.

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Adaptation and Natural Selection


Adaptation Lecture

Adaptation Lecture
This page, developed as part of an undergraduate course in evolution at the University of Chicago, does an exemplary job of distinguishing between adaptations, preadaptations, spandrels, and exaptations.

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Adaptation and Natural Selection


Coloration

Coloration
This site, part of an undergraduate course, neatly outlines the different types of coloration found in various animal species and briefly discusses some of their consequences. Hosted by Buffalo State College.

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Adaptation and Natural Selection


Contrivances: Orchids and the Panda's Thumb

Contrivances: Orchids and the Panda's Thumb
This activity explores how many features of modern organisms reflect the structure of their ancestors. Hosted by ENSI at the University of Indiana.

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Mimicry

Mimicry
This page offers succinct explanations of the three types of mimicry: Batesian, Mullerian, and aggressive. By M. Tevfik Dorak.

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Adaptation and Natural Selection


Natural Selection

Natural Selection
This link offers an introduction to many of the key ideas in population genetics, including the founder effect and the genetic basis for natural selection. Hosted by La Trobe University, Australia.

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Adaptation and Natural Selection


Planet Ocean

Planet Ocean
Targeted to students in grades 5-8, this site provides a brief introduction to a few ocean zones and their inhabitants, including blue whales and tubeworms. Links will take teachers to teaching tips and additional curriculum resources, in the form of books and Web sites. Hosted by DiscoverySchool.com.

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Adaptation and Natural Selection


The Peppered Moth - An Update

The Peppered Moth - An Update
This link provides an update on new research casting some doubts on the classic example of natural selection on the peppered moth. British ecologist H.B.D. Kettlewell's original study was a bit flawed, though most of his conclusions still seem to stand. Further updates will appear at this site. Hosted by Brown University.

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The Spandrels of San Marco and the Panglossian Paradigm

The Spandrels of San Marco and the Panglossian Paradigm
In this full-text article from the 1979 Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Lewontin present their well-supported, though still controversial, argument against the notion that all phenotypic traits are adaptations. Hosted by the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

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Climbing Mount Improbable

Climbing Mount Improbable
In this book, the author provides a comprehensive account explaining that evolution occurs as a result of many small steps of change. Readers will also find elaborate discussions of the evolution of such things as spider webs, flight adaptations, and dozens of independently evolved eyes. By Richard Dawkins [New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1996].

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Evolutionary Biology, 3rd ed.

Evolutionary Biology, 3rd ed.
An excellent college-level textbook for the serious student of modern evolutionary theory. Chapter 13 explains the three basic types of natural selection and their effects. The related concept of sexual selection is discussed in chapter 20. By Douglas J. Futuyma [Sunderland, Mass.: Sinauer Associates, Inc., 1998].

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A Mutation Story

A Mutation Story
This segment describes the role of the sickle cell gene in natural selection. Footage courtesy of the PBS series Secret of Life: "Accidents of Creation."

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Shape of Trees: The Frustration Principle

Shape of Trees: The Frustration Principle
This series of images shows the work of biologist Karl Niklas on the adaptations and evolution of plants.

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Constraints and Trade-offs in Evolution

Constraints and Trade-offs in Evolution
This essay discusses the role of adaptive constraint in shaping the evolutionary path that organisms can or cannot take. Primary literature references are not included. Hosted by Brown University.

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Death by Design

Death by Design
This lengthy but interesting exposition argues for a non-mainstream view that the processes of senescence and death have explicitly evolved to promote genetic and phenotypic diversity of populations, which enhances the long-term fitness of the group. The logic is fairly well-grounded, but beware of the author's somewhat anthropomorphized use of the word "evolution." Hosted by the University of Chicago.

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Evidence for Jury-Rigged Design in Nature

Evidence for Jury-Rigged Design in Nature
This article explains how phenotypic constraints can be imposed by the evolutionary history (phylogeny) of a species. After the introduction, there are lists of examples of these "maladapted" organisms and descriptions of the elaborate tactics some must employ to get around their handicaps. Hosted by Talk.Origins.

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Evolution and the Origins of Disease

Evolution and the Origins of Disease
This full-text Scientific American article, written by Randolph M. Nesse and George C. Williams in 1998, describes the newly evolved field of "Darwinian medicine" and discusses how many human afflictions are the result of evolutionary processes, including adaptive compromise.

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Eye-opening Gene

Eye-opening Gene
This article summarizes the new findings that challenge the traditional view that eyes evolved independently in many animal lineages and includes a very focused bibliography of additional references. Hosted by Science News Online.

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Adaptation and Natural Selection


Plant Evolution: Adaptation or Historical Accident?

Plant Evolution: Adaptation or Historical Accident?
This site discusses the author's computer model and research into the adaptation of land plants. By Karl Niklas. Hosted by Access Excellence.

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Size and Shape

Size and Shape
This article, by Stephen Jay Gould, clearly explains how the basic features of size and shape impose constraints on other aspects of form and function in every organism. Hosted by the American Museum of Natural History.

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Adaptation and Natural Selection


Evolutionary Biology, 3rd ed.

Evolutionary Biology, 3rd ed.
An excellent college-level textbook for the serious student of modern evolutionary theory. Chapter 13 explains the three basic types of natural selection and their effects. The related concept of sexual selection is discussed in chapter 20. By Douglas J. Futuyma [Sunderland, Mass.: Sinauer Associates, Inc., 1998].

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Adaptation and Natural Selection


Hen's Teeth and Horse's Toes

Hen's Teeth and Horse's Toes
In this collection of essays, the author clearly explains how structural and functional limitations, phylogeny, and natural selection together impose design constraints on organisms. These constraints have produced a wide array of less-than-perfect, and sometimes quite bizarre, features. By Stephen Jay Gould [New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1983].

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The Evolution of Complexity by Means of Natural Selection

The Evolution of Complexity by Means of Natural Selection
In this book, the author makes a clear, if technical, argument for the evolution of biological complexity among certain groups of organisms, citing design constraints imposed by physical and chemical laws as important drivers of such evolution. By John Bonner [Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1998].

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The Panda's Thumb: More Reflections in Natural History

The Panda's Thumb: More Reflections in Natural History
In this essay, the author describes the anatomy and origin of the panda's thumb, which is not really a thumb at all, as an illustration of how imperfections in design can sometimes offer the best evidence for evolution. By Stephen Jay Gould [New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1980].

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Coral Reef Connections

Coral Reef Connections
Dive in and explore what makes this beautiful world so fragile. Discover how coevolution has shaped the ecological relationships among reef creatures.

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Ancient Farmers of the Amazon

Ancient Farmers of the Amazon
This segment from Evolution: "Evolutionary Arms Race" tells the story of the leafcutter ant and the fungus it farms -- an example of mutually beneficial symbiosis.

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Toxic Newts

Toxic Newts
The father and son team of Brodie and Brodie track down the predator able to stomach a mysteriously hyper-toxic newt, an example of an evolutionary arms race in action. From Evolution: "Evolutionary Arms Race."

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The Advantage of Sex

The Advantage of Sex
Why did sex evolve? The likely answers, in this essay by science journalist Matt Ridley, may surprise you.

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Mollusk Defenses

Mollusk Defenses
This collage illustrates numerous defenses ancient and modern mollusks use against their predators.

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E.O. Wilson: Ants and Ecosystems

E.O. Wilson: Ants and Ecosystems
This segment is from an interview with ant specialist and biologist E.O. Wilson, filmed for Evolution: "Evolutionary Arms Race."

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E.O. Wilson: The World of Microbes

E.O. Wilson: The World of Microbes
In this interview excerpt filmed for Evolution: "Evolutionary Arms Race," biologist E.O. Wilson discusses the interaction of species and the vital roles that microbes play in life on Earth.

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Fitness and Synergy

Fitness and Synergy
This fairly technical paper explains the often ill-defined or tautological concept of fitness, then argues that organisms can improve their fitness more by cooperative interactions (such as mutualism) than by antagonistic ones (such as parasitism). Hosted by CALResCo.

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How Parasitic Wasps Find their Hosts

How Parasitic Wasps Find their Hosts
This article explains in detail how plants, such as corn, release volatile chemicals when damaged by herbivores. These chemicals in turn act as attractants for parasitic wasps, which can follow the scent trails to the plants, where they use the herbivores as hosts for their offspring. By James H. Tumlinson, W. Joe Lewis, and Louise E. M. Vet [Scientific American, March 1993, 100-106].

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Insects and Flowers

Insects and Flowers
This book explains the variety of relationship that have coevolved between insects and flowers. By Friedrich G. Barth in 1985 and translated for this edition by M.A. Biederman-Thorson [Reprint, Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1991].

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Symbiosis in the Deep Sea

Symbiosis in the Deep Sea
This article explains how the surprising density of life at seemingly inhospitable deep-sea hydrothermal vents depends on symbiotic relationships that have coevolved between various invertebrates and their colonizing bacteria. By James J. Childress, Horst Felbeck, and George N. Somero [Scientific American, May 1987, 114].

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The Coevolutionary Process

The Coevolutionary Process
In this book, the author expounds on a new approach toward studying coevolution, called geographical mosaic theory of coevolution. This book contains a wealth of information, beginning with a history of and introduction to the field of evolutionary ecology and contains a bibliography of more than 1,000 references. By John N. Thompson [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994].

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Yellow Fever, Black Goddess: The Coevolution of People and Plagues

Yellow Fever, Black Goddess: The Coevolution of People and Plagues
Intended for an audience with at least a college-level understanding of genetics and evolutionary biology, this book discusses in great detail the adaptations infectious agents have made in coevolving with their human hosts. By Christopher Wills [Cambridge, Mass.: Perseus Publishing, 1997].

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Convergent Evolution

Convergent Evolution
This diagram illustrates convergent evolution, the process by which species evolved in different parts of the globe independently. They share similar traits and fill similar niches, but they occupy different continents.

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Convergence: Marsupials and Placentals

Convergence: Marsupials and Placentals
This graphic illustrates some of the marsupial mammals in Australia and placental mammals in North America. Even though they are not closely related, these mammals look alike because they have adapted to similar ecological roles.

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Australian Fauna

Australian Fauna
This site provides a brief account of the evolutionary history of the three main groups of mammals (monotremes, marsupials, placentals). A simple table comparing placental and marsupial species that have evolved in parallel is also included.

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Birds and DNA

Birds and DNA
Using photos of a variety of bird species, this site explains how grouping organisms on the basis of appearance can lead to errors in phylogenetic determination, while groupings based on DNA sequence analysis can "see past" convergently evolved morphologies to give accurate phylogenies. Hosted by Museum Victoria.

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Natural Born Robots: Swim Like a Fish

Natural Born Robots: Swim Like a Fish
This archived PBS teaching guide (companion to a Scientific American Frontiers video) explains how engineers are borrowing designs from nature to build robots that swim like fish. Follow links to additional resources and classroom exercises appropriate for grades 5-12. Hosted by PBS.

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Shaking the Family Tree

Shaking the Family Tree
This site describes two recent studies on the relationships between the various species of placental mammals that have evolved in parallel for millions of years and provides references for the original papers. Only subscribers can view full-text articles online. Hosted by Nature.com.

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The Three Solutions to Flight

The Three Solutions to Flight
This site provides an overview of convergence in adaptations for flight and links to individual discussions that thoroughly explain how each group has taken wing. Hosted by the University of California Museum of Paleontology.

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When Evolution Creates the Same Design Again and Again

When Evolution Creates the Same Design Again and Again
This site contains a full-text reprint of a New York Times article on the topic of convergent evolution. Some interesting examples of convergent features are cited, followed by a thorough discussion of the causes and consequences of convergence. Hosted by the Cleveland Museum of Natural History.

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Function, Phylogeny, and Fossils: Miocene Hominoid Evolution and Adaptations

Function, Phylogeny, and Fossils: Miocene Hominoid Evolution and Adaptations
Written by 22 specialists for an advanced audience, this volume discusses the adaptations and phylogenetic relationships among the Hominoidea superfamily. The book also provides excellent general discussions of patterns and processes in parallel and convergent evolution. Edited by David R. Begun, Carol V. Ward, and Michael D. Rose [New York: Plenum Press, 1997].

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Asexual Reproducers

Asexual Reproducers
This segment explores the benefits and pitfalls of cloning as a means of reproduction. From Evolution: "Why Sex?"

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The Red Queen

The Red Queen
An example of the Red Queen hypothesis, the sexual population of Mexican Poeciliid fish are able to keep up with a changing environment, while the asexual populations are not as successful. From Evolution: "Why Sex?"

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Evolution of the Dog

Evolution of the Dog
Images of different breeds of dogs. Domesticated dogs provide an example of humans acting as natural "selectors," shaping different types for different purposes.

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Variation: Snails

Variation: Snails
This image shows the variation in shell pattern and color within a single species of tree snail.

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Adaptation and Natural Selection


Are Mutations Harmful?

Are Mutations Harmful?
This site presents the current understanding of genetic mutations, including types, mechanisms, and effects. The bibliography of original research papers is extensive. Hosted by Talk.Origins.

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On the Tendency of Varieties to Depart Indefinitely

On the Tendency of Varieties to Depart Indefinitely
This site includes the full-text, original version of Alfred Russel Wallace's 1858 manuscript in which he argues that different varieties, and ultimately species, can evolve from a single parent species. Even though Wallace does not explicitly mention inheritance, his argument relies on the concept. Hosted by the University of Bergen, Norway.

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Online Mendelian Inheritance In Animals (OMIA)

Online Mendelian Inheritance In Animals (OMIA)
This up-to-date searchable catalog describes the genes that influence phenotypic traits of animals, from alpacas to zebrafish. Search by species or traits/disorders. Hosted by the Australian National Genomic Information Service.

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Online Mendelian Inheritance In Man (OMIM)

Online Mendelian Inheritance In Man (OMIM)
This searchable catalog offers highly technical and detailed information about human genes and genetic disorders. Search results are summaries of recent scientific publications that provide information about the genes influencing a phenotypic trait, and accompanying links lead to maps of the chromosomal location of the genes of interest. Hosted by the National Center for Biotechnology Information.

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Origin, Adaptation, and Types of Corn

Origin, Adaptation, and Types of Corn
This site is a compendium of research summaries (primary sources are not cited on the page) detailing the evolutionary history of corn, as well as the varieties that currently exist throughout the world. Hosted by the University of Maryland.

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Quantitative Genetics/Polygenic Inheritance - Going from simple to complicated

Quantitative Genetics/Polygenic Inheritance - Going from simple to complicated
Intended for a specialist audience, this site discusses the difficulties associated with quantifying the heritability of traits and considers influences (including polygenic and environmental effects) that can complicate calculations. Hosted by the University of Glasgow.

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Random Genetic Drift

Random Genetic Drift
This article is an excellent summary of current knowledge on genetic drift, a major omission from Darwin's original theory and an important mechanism of evolution. Hosted by Talk.Origins.

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Variation Under Domestication

Variation Under Domestication
This site includes chapter 1 of Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species, in which he explains heritable variations seen among domesticated plant and animal species. Hosted by literature.org.

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Variation Under Nature

Variation Under Nature
This site includes chapter 2 of Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species, in which he discusses phenotypic variations observed among non-domesticated species. Hosted by literature.org.

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Evolutionary Biology, 3rd ed.

Evolutionary Biology, 3rd ed.
An excellent college-level textbook for the serious student of modern evolutionary theory. Chapter 13 explains the three basic types of natural selection and their effects. The related concept of sexual selection is discussed in chapter 20. By Douglas J. Futuyma [Sunderland, Mass.: Sinauer Associates, Inc., 1998].

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Inheritance in Dogs

Inheritance in Dogs
Written in layman's terms, this book thoroughly describes the principles of genetic inheritance in dogs. It's an excellent reference for dog breeders and owners of purebreds, which are most likely to exhibit hereditary dysfunctions. By Ojvind Winge [Ithaca, N.Y.: Comstock Publishing Co., 1950].

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Sex and the Single Guppy

Sex and the Single Guppy
Play in our streams and see how exhibitionism has an evolutionary payoff in this simulation of Endler's experiment.

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The Mating Game

The Mating Game
Help our contestants pass their genes down the evolutionary line as you discover the varied mating behaviors of living things.

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Jacanas and Polyandry

Jacanas and Polyandry
In response to the threat of crocodiles, female wattled jacanas have evolved an unusual reproductive strategy: polyandry, or "many males." From Evolution: "Why Sex?"

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Songbird Infidelity

Songbird Infidelity
Female songbirds take a chance when they are non-monogamous, but their offspring benefit from the genetic variation -- they have a better survival rate. From Evolution: "Why Sex?"

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Sweaty T-Shirts and Human Mate Choice

Sweaty T-Shirts and Human Mate Choice
This segment from Evolution: "Why Sex?" explores the "sweaty T-shirt experiment," which showed that humans may unconsciously be drawn toward a specific kind of genetic variation in a mate.

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Tale of the Peacock

Tale of the Peacock
The peacock provides a classic example of sexual selection, the force behind nature's extravagances. From Evolution: "Why Sex?"

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Adaptive Radiation: Darwin's Finches

Adaptive Radiation: Darwin's Finches
Finches on the Galapagos Islands have evolved to exploit almost every possible niche. This diagram shows the range of food sources available on the island and the different beak shapes adapted to exploit each of them.

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Bachelor Uncles

Bachelor Uncles
In this image a peacock displays for a peahen. Male peacocks work together to attract females in communal mating groups.

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Mantis Mating

Mantis Mating
This sequence of images from film shot for Evolution: "Why Sex?" shows a female praying mantis eating a male after mating.

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Paul Ewald: Infectious Disease and the Evolution of Virulence

Paul Ewald: Infectious Disease and the Evolution of Virulence
In these interview transcript excerpts from Evolution: "The Evolutionary Arms Race," Dr. Paul Ewald discusses applying principles of evolution to reduce the harm of infectious diseases.

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Finch Beak Data Sheet

Finch Beak Data Sheet
This graphic presents data from the Galapagos Islands, showing that a severe drought put selective pressure on the population of Darwin's finches and resulted in a change in the average beak size in the next generation.

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Evolution in Action

Evolution in Action
This interactive feature shows how random mutations can lead to species-wide change. The "world" presented in this feature is abstract -- colored creatures placed within a colored environment. The user can change the environment ( the background color) and observe how these changes affect the survival and reproduction of the different "creatures".

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Evolution and Chance

Evolution and Chance
This site addresses the frequently misunderstood role of chance, or random mutation and genetic drift, in evolution and also discusses the importance of natural selection and genetic inheritance. Hosted by Talk.Origins.

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How Females Choose Their Mates

How Females Choose Their Mates
This entertaining and clearly written article explains in detail how females select mates, citing examples from the primary literature. Hosted by Scientific American.

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Morph Lab

Morph Lab
Starting with an assortment of artificial life forms, this game lets you choose which life form survives after each round, simulating the role of natural selection in evolution. A background on how evolution takes place in the game is included in the instructions. Hosted by fusebox.com.

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Natural Selection

Natural Selection
In chapter 4 of On the Origin of Species, Charles Darwin masterfully explains the effects of natural (including sexual) selection on species variants, logically arguing how selection could produce a structure as complex as the vertebrate eye. Hosted by literature.org.

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Natural Selection: Modes of Selection

Natural Selection: Modes of Selection
This tutorial offers definitions of directional, disruptive, and stabilizing selection, as well as a simulation that shows how each selection type affects a population of colored dots over time. Hosted by EvoTutor.org.

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Struggle for Existence

Struggle for Existence
In this chapter of On the Origin of Species, Charles Darwin outlines the mechanisms underlying natural selection. Hosted by literature.org.

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The Case of the Irish Elk

The Case of the Irish Elk
This article describes and shows fossil images of the extinct Irish elk, whose immense antlers are thought to have been a product of sexual selection. Hosted by the University of California Museum of Paleontology.

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Adaptation and Natural Selection

Adaptation and Natural Selection
This classic book clearly rebutted the notion of group (versus individual) selection, which had become a serious challenge to Darwinian theory. By George C. Williams [Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1966].

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Ecology and Evolution of Darwin's Finches

Ecology and Evolution of Darwin's Finches
This classic book details the findings of Peter and Rosemary Grant, who made firsthand observations of the evolution of Darwin's finches on the Galapagos Islands. By Peter Grant [Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1986].

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Natural Selection: Domains, Levels, and Challenges

Natural Selection: Domains, Levels, and Challenges
In this book written for advanced students of evolutionary biology, the author provides a technical discussion of the theoretical issues of selection. By George C. Williams [Cambridge: Oxford University Press, 1992].

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The Beak of the Finch

The Beak of the Finch
This book is a beautifully written chronicle of more than three decades of study of evolution observed firsthand among the Galapagos finches. By Jonathan Weiner [New York: Vintage Books, 1999].

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