Scientists have long observed that species seem to have become increasingly capable of evolving in response to changes in the environment. But computer science researchers now say that the popular explanation of competition to survive in nature may not actually be necessary for evolvability to increase. In a paper published this week in PLOS ONE, the researchers report that evolvability can increase over generations regardless of whether species are competing for food, habitat or other factors.
Using a simulated model they designed to mimic how organisms evolve, the researchers saw increasing evolvability even without competitive pressure.
"The explanation is that evolvable organisms separate themselves naturally from less evolvable organisms over time simply by becoming increasingly diverse," said Kenneth O. Stanley, an associate professor at the College of Engineering and Computer Science at the University of Central Florida. He co-wrote the paper about the study along with lead author Joel Lehman, a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Texas at Austin.
The finding could have implications for the origins of evolvability in many species.