Fitness (biology)

Fitness (often denoted or ω in population genetics models) is the quantitative representation of individual reproductive success. It is also equal to the average contribution to the gene pool of the next generation, made by the same individuals of the specified genotype or phenotype. Fitness can be defined either with respect to a genotype or to a phenotype in a given environment or time. The fitness of a genotype is manifested through its phenotype, which is also affected by the developmental environment. The fitness of a given phenotype can also be different in different selective environments.

With asexual reproduction, it is sufficient to assign fitnesses to genotypes. With sexual reproduction, recombination scrambles alleles into different genotypes every generation; in this case, fitness values can be assigned to alleles by averaging over possible genetic backgrounds. Natural selection tends to make alleles with higher fitness more common over time, resulting in Darwinian evolution.

The term "Darwinian fitness" can be used to make clear the distinction with physical fitness.[1] Fitness does not include a measure of survival or life-span; Herbert Spencer's well-known phrase "survival of the fittest" should be interpreted as: "Survival of the form (phenotypic or genotypic) that will leave the most copies of itself in successive generations."

Inclusive fitness differs from individual fitness by including the ability of an allele in one individual to promote the survival and/or reproduction of other individuals that share that allele, in preference to individuals with a different allele. One mechanism of inclusive fitness is kin selection.

  1. ^ Wassersug, J. D., and R. J. Wassersug, 1986. Fitness fallacies. Natural History 3:34–37.

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