Landscapes, surfaces, and morphospaces: what are they good for?

In E. Svensson & R. Calsbeek (eds.), The Adaptive Landscape in Evolutionary Biology. Oxford University Press. pp. 26 (2012)
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Few metaphors in biology are more enduring than the idea of Adaptive Landscapes, originally proposed by Sewall Wright (1932) as a way to visually present to an audience of typically non- mathematically savvy biologists his ideas about the relative role of natural selection and genetic drift in the course of evolution. The metaphor, how- ever, was born troubled, not the least reason for which is the fact that Wright presented different diagrams in his original paper that simply can- not refer to the same concept and are therefore hard to reconcile with each other (Pigliucci 2008). For instance, in some usages, the landscape’s non- fitness axes represent combinations of individual genotypes (which cannot sensibly be aligned on a linear axis, and accordingly were drawn by Wright as polyhedrons of increasing dimensionality). In other usages, however, the points on the diagram represent allele or genotypic frequencies, and so are actually populations, not individuals (and these can indeed be coherently represented along continuous axes).


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