How does the environment influence populations of organisms over multiple generations?
- Introduction to LS4.C
- K-12 Progression and Grade Band End Points for LS4.C
- Performance Expectations Associated with LS4.C
- Additional Resources for LS4.C
When an environment changes, there can be subsequent shifts in its supply of resources or in the physical and biological challenges it imposes. Some individuals in a population may have morphological, physiological, or behavioral traits that provide a reproductive advantage in the face of the shifts in the environment. Natural selection provides a mechanism for species to adapt to changes in their environment. The resulting selective pressures influence the survival and reproduction of organisms over many generations and can change the distribution of traits in the population. This process is called adaptation. Adaptation can lead to organisms that are better suited for their environment because individuals with the traits adaptive to the environmental change pass those traits on to their offspring, whereas individuals with traits that are less adaptive produce fewer or no offspring. Over time, adaptation can lead to the formation of new species. In some cases, however, traits that are adaptive to the changed environment do not exist in the population and the species becomes extinct. Adaptive changes due to natural selection, as well as the net result of speciation minus extinction, have strongly contributed to the planet’s biodiversity.
Adaption by natural selection is ongoing. For example it is seen in the emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Organisms like bacteria, in which multiple generations occur over shorter time spans, evolve more rapidly than those for which each generation takes multiple years.
Grade Band Endpoints for LS4.C
By the end of grade 2. Living things can survive only where their needs are met. If some places are too hot or too cold or have too little water or food, plants and animals may not be able to live there.
By the end of grade 5. Changes in an organism’s habitat are sometimes beneficial to it and sometimes harmful. For any particular environment, some kinds of organisms survive well, some survive less well, and some cannot survive at all.
By the end of grade 8. Adaptation by natural selection acting over generations is one important process by which species change over time in response to changes in environmental conditions. Traits that support successful survival and reproduction in the new environment become more common; those that do not become less common. Thus, the distribution of traits in a population changes. In separated populations with different conditions, the changes can be large enough that the populations, provided they remain separated (a process called reproductive isolation), evolve to become separate species.
By the end of grade 12. Natural selection is the result of four factors: (1) the potential for a species to increase in number, (2) the genetic variation of individuals in a species due to mutation and sexual reproduction, (3) competition for an environment’s limited supply of the resources that individuals need in order to survive and reproduce, and (4) the ensuing proliferation of those organisms that are better able to survive and reproduce in that environment. Natural selection leads to adaptation—that is, to a population dominated by organisms that are anatomically, behaviorally, and physiologically well suited to survive and reproduce in a specific environment. That is, the differential survival and reproduction of organisms in a population that have an advantageous heritable trait leads to an increase in the proportion of individuals in future generations that have the trait and to a decrease in the proportion of individuals that do not. Adaptation also means that the distribution of traits in a population can change when conditions change.
Changes in the physical environment, whether naturally occurring or human induced, have thus contributed to the expansion of some species, the emergence of new distinct species as populations diverge under different conditions, and the decline—and sometimes the extinction—of some species. Species become extinct because they can no longer survive and reproduce in their altered environment. If members cannot adjust to change that is too fast or too drastic, the opportunity for the species’ evolution is lost.