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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1994 Jul 19;91(15):6772-9.

Morphological evolution through complex domains of fitness.

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Section of Plant Biology, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853.


Computer simulated phenotypic walks through multi-dimensional fitness-landscapes indicate that (i) the number of phenotypes capable of reconciling conflicting morphological requirements increases in proportion to the number of manifold functional obligations an organism must perform to grow, survive, and reproduce, and (ii) walks over multi-task fitness-landscapes require fewer but larger phenotypic transformations than those through single-task landscapes. These results were determined by (i) simulating a "morphospace" containing 200,000 phenotypes reminiscent of early Paleozoic vascular sporophytes, (ii) evaluating the capacity of each morphology to perform each of three tasks (light interception, mechanical support, and reproduction) as well as the ability to reconcile the conflicting morphological requirements for the four combinatorial permutations of these tasks, (iii) simulating the walks obtaining all phenotypic maxima or optima within the seven "fitness-landscapes," and (iv) computing the mean morphological variation attending these walks. The results of these simulations, whose credibility is discussed in the context of early vascular land-plant evolution, suggest that both the number and the accessibility of phenotypic optima increase as the number of functional obligations contributing to total fitness increases (i.e., as the complexity of optimal phenotypes increases, the fitnesses of optima fall closer to the mean fitness of all the phenotypes under selection).

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