An adaptive landscape is a hypothetical topological landscape upon which evolution is envisioned to take place. It is similar to Wright's fitness landscape in which the location of each point represents the genotype of an organism and the altitude represents the fitness of that organism in the current environment. However, unlike Wright's rigid landscape, the adaptive landscape is pliable. It readily changes shape with changes in population densities and survival/reproductive strategies used within and among the various species.
Wright’s shifting balance theory of evolution combines genetic drift (random sampling error in the transmission of genes) and natural selection to explain how multiple peaks on a fitness landscape could be occupied or how a population can achieve a higher peak on this landscape. This theory, based on the assumption of density-dependent selection as the principle forms of selection, results in a fitness landscape that is relatively rigid. A rigid landscape is one that does not change in response to even large changes in the position and composition of strategies along the landscape.
In contrast to the fitness landscape, the adaptive landscape is constructed assuming that both density and frequency-dependent selection is involved (selection is frequency-dependant when the fitness of a species depends not only on that species strategy but also on the strategy of all other species). As such, the shape of the adaptive landscape can change drastically in response to even small changes in strategies and densities.
The flexibility of adaptive landscapes provide several ways for natural selection to cross valleys and occupy multiple peaks without having to make large changes in their strategies. Within the context of differential or difference equation models for population dynamics, an adaptive landscape may actually be constructed using a Fitness Generating Function. If a given species is able to evolve, it will, over time, "climb" the adaptive landscape toward a fitness peak through gradual changes in its mean phenotype according to a strategy dynamic that involves the slope of the adaptive landscape. Because the adaptive landscape is not rigid and can change shape during the evolutionary process, it is possible that a species may be driven to maximum, minimum, or saddle point on the adaptive landscape. A population at a global maximum on the adaptive landscape corresponds an evolutionarily stable strategy (ESS) and will become dominant, driving all others toward extinction. Populations at a minimum or saddle point are not resistant to invasion, so that the introduction of a slightly different mutant strain may continue the evolutionary process toward unoccupied local maxima.
The adaptive landscape provides a useful tool for studying somatic evolution as it can describe the process of how a mutant cell evolves from a small tumor to an invasive cancer. Understanding this process in terms of the adaptive landscape may lead to the control of cancer through external manipulation of the shape of the landscape.
Famous quotes containing the word adaptive:
“The shift from the perception of the child as innocent to the perception of the child as competent has greatly increased the demands on contemporary children for maturity, for participating in competitive sports, for early academic achievement, and for protecting themselves against adults who might do them harm. While children might be able to cope with any one of those demands taken singly, taken together they often exceed childrens adaptive capacity.”
—David Elkind (20th century)