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Definition: natural selection from The Penguin Dictionary of Science

A fundamental mechanism of Darwin's theory of evolution (➤Darwinism), still used by biologists to explain changes in allele frequencies in populations (➤evolution). It holds that individuals in a large population have different chances of survival determined by their genetic make-up: those with characteristics that weaken their capacity to survive (such as the inability to escape predators or obtain nutrients) will have less chance of reproducing and passing on their characteristics to succeeding generations. Evolution by natural selection can be observed directly and has been tested experimentally. It remains the central feature of modern evolutionary theory.


Summary Article: natural selection from The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

Process by which gene frequencies in a population change through certain individuals producing more descendants than others because they are better able to survive and reproduce in their environment. The accumulated effect of natural selection is to produce adaptations such as the insulating coat of a polar bear or the spadelike forelimbs of a mole. The process is slow, relying firstly on random variation in the genes of an organism being produced by mutation and secondly on the genetic recombination of sexual reproduction. It was recognized by English naturalists Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace as the main process driving evolution.

Natural selection results in evolution in a way that was described by Charles Darwin: individual organisms within a particular species may show a wide range of variation because of differences in their genes; predation, disease, and competition cause individuals to die; individuals with characteristics most suited to the environment are more likely to survive and breed successfully; and the genes which have enabled these individuals to survive are then passed on to the next generation, and if the environment is changing, the result is that some genes are more abundant in the next generation and the organism has evolved.

Natural selection usually takes place over many years, but in fast-breeding organisms it can occur rapidly, for example the spread of antibiotic resistance in some bacteria.

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Natural selection and variation

Evolution: Out of Africa and the Eve Hypothesis

Evolution by natural selection

Sexual and asexual reproduction

Inheritance and selective breeding

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Evolution Theory and Science

Introduction to Evolutionary Biology

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