Darwinian Evolution
Theory of biological evolution by natural selection based on the insights of Charles Darwin.

Darwin observed that individuals in any population are variable, and this variation can be inherited. But because organisms have the potential to increase in numbers far in excess of the environment's capacity to support all of them, those individuals with traits that increase their chances of survival and reproduction will leave more offspring. Natural selection thus determines which individuals successfully leave offspring for the next generation ("Survival of the Fittest"). Over thousands of generations these small changes can produce very large changes, and this can account not only for the advent of new species but ultimately for entirely new major clades, up to and including whole kingdoms of life, so that a single self-replicating organism can, given enough time, give rise to the diversity of a natural biosphere.

During the early Atomic Age and onwards Darwinism (also called Neodarwinism and the Modern Synthesis) incorporated the Mendelian theory of inheritance, and, later, genetic mutation (De Vries). Random mutation causes subtle, occasionally dramatic, variations in genes, hence greater genetic diversity. Some members of these diverse populations are better able to survive and reproduce, thus passing on their genes and the traits that follow from them and changing the nature of the population. The Modern Synthesis, based on advances in statistics, and a better understanding of the modes of inheritance than was available in Darwin's day, expanded the original insights of Darwin, and has remained a cornerstone of biology.

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Appears in Topics
Development Notes
Text by M. Alan Kazlev and Peter Kisner
modified by Stephen Inniss
Initially published on 09 October 2001.