Natural Selection Examples — Simple and Advanced Evolution for Students

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Evolution is a concept that can be applied to just about anything. Traditional phones have evolved into portable computers that aren’t just about communicating anymore. And Darwin’s finches have evolved to be the superstars of the biology world. If you’re wondering about natural selection examples, you’ve come to the right place! In this article you’ll find:

   🧬 Evolution and Natural Selection

What is evolution? Evolution is one of the fundamental theories in biology that explains how the world ended up with the diversity we have now. Evolution theory states that all living things on Earth originate from preexisting types that gradually modify in successive generations.

There are 4 fundamental mechanisms of evolution:

  1. Natural selection
  2. Mutation
  3. Genetic drift
  4. Gene flow

These 4 mechanisms can also be considered as forces of evolution. How to know that some example of evolution is caused by natural selection? It’s actually very easy!

Natural selection occurs in large populations when some individuals in the population have higher reproductive and survival rate. Eventually, the traits of these individuals get transferred to successive populations and evolution takes its place. In other words, works through the differential reproductive success of particular individuals in the community. In natural selection, the population evolves to adapt to the environment.

       ❓ How Do We Know Natural Selection Exists?

Evidence of natural selection is the following:

  • Molecular biology – DNA analysis shows similarities among species
  • Archeological findings – fossils can help understand how certain traits evolve in species
  • Structural similarities – correspondence of bones and body parts in species can be used as evidence of evolution by natural selection

Now let’s move on to examples of evolution by natural selection.

    🏃 Natural Selection in Homo Sapiens

Let’s start with the most exciting topic: natural selection in homo sapiens! If you’ve been looking up natural selection in Homo sapiens, you might be wondering, “which of the following is considered one of the best examples of natural selection on homo sapiens?”

In fact, there are numerous examples of natural selection in Homo sapiens. Population after population, our species has begun evolving more than 200,000 years ago and during that process many genes to become more common in our population and other traits less common.

We’ve picked several great examples of natural selection in humans (so you don’t have to do the research😉)

  • Resistance to infectious diseases – some people develop resistance to certain conditions, even if they are exposed to the infection. This is an example of adaptability to the environment.
  • Lactose tolerance – before the domestication of some animals, dairy products were scarce. Humans had enzymes that digested lactose only in childhood due to having mother’s milk. As a result of domestication, dairy has become more common and provided an excellent source of nutrition. Therefore, it was advantageous for people to digest lactose. Today, dairy is an integral part of the human diet, and lactose intolerance is rare
  • Larger brain and skull – as humans evolved, having a larger brain meant being able to survive due to the effective processing of information about the environment. Over populations, Homo Sapiens developed larger brain and skull to facilitate it, while the skull became thinner
  • No fur – many mammals, including the ones Darwin assumed we’ve evolved from, are covered in fur. The reason is simple: the coat helps maintain stable body temperature, especially during the cold season. However, Homo sapiens started using shelters and wearing clothes, so fur gradually lost its purpose. Instead, the coat had such risk as lice and other infections, which was undesirable in the grand scope of survival. Today, we have body hair nearly everywhere, but it’s nearly not fur.
  • Opposable thumbs – the evolution of opposable thumb is associated with the forerunner of Homo sapiens – Homo habilis. How would be typing on cell phones possible without evolution?
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       ❓ Are Humans Still Evolving?

Scientists say ‘yes.’ When human genome changes to adjust to the environment, that’s when natural selection happens. The thing is, we might not see evolution because it takes centuries to come to noticeable results.

Today, we can say that opposable thumb and absence of fur all over the human body are results of evolution since we compare what we have now with what archeological findings tell us. But when we’re dealing with something as huge as evolution, it’s important to take a few steps back because it might be too large for us to see it how it really is.

       ❓ Why Are We Still Evolving?

It may seem that as soon as certain species reach prosperity, evolution should stop. However, humanity isn’t really prospering now, is it? Modern lifestyle means a lot of stress, reduced physical activity, low quality of sleep, poor diet, the increased amount of processed food and sugar intake. All these factors aren’t threatening our survival as species, but they trigger evolutionary processes.

The rapid increase of population and domination on the planet doesn’t mean that we’ve developed perfect genes for our environment. Our environment is still harsh enough for us as species. The overwhelming majority of us no longer struggles to survive, however, modern life creates certain struggles. Instead of using physical violence to gain domination, humans started contesting over wealth and status. Environmental changes also make us adjust constantly. So yep, we are still evolving as species and who knows what we’ll look like in a thousand years or two (although we can hope for superhuman eyesight and the power of flight, why not 🤔👍👍👍)


   🐱 Examples of Natural Selection in Animals

Owl butterfly is an awesome example of natural selection in animals - this trick will save this little clever fella's life a lot of times!

Owl butterfly is pretending to be an owl to deter predators — a classic example of natural selection in animals. This is as clever as it gets in the animal kingdom! This trick will save this little smart fella’s life a lot of times, so natural selection rules, tbh.

Natural selection is about the survival of the fittest. The more species can adjust to the environment, the higher the chances they have to survive and prosper. Examples of evolution by natural selection in animals are various:

  • Some moths and butterflies, such as Peacock butterfly, Owl butterfly, and Eggfly, have eye-shaped patterns on their wings. This is to scare off predators by mimicking the eyes of the predators’ own enemies. This is an example of mimicry known as eyespot.
  • Treefrogs that live in different environments have a different color. For instance, Gray Treefrogs live in the northern regions of the United States and prefer wooded areas. Gray color helps them mask in their environment. Green Treefrogs live in the southern regions mostly in wetland areas, which is why they are green – they are hard to detect by predators.
  • Pelicans have developed large throat pouch to be effective at catching prey and draining water from what they’ve caught before swallowing.
  • Ostriches have developed the ability to run very fast (up to 60mp/h or 96km/h) to be able to escape from their predators – cheetahs, lions, African hunting dogs, spotted hyenas, and leopards.
  • Penguins developed the ability to swim fast, even though they can’t fly. Since there are no predators on the land for penguins, being able to fly isn’t as crucial for survival as being able to swim fast, running away from leopard seals and sharks.
  • Giraffes develop long necks to be able to reach leaves high above. This is one of the examples that Lamarck talked about, same as about elephant trunks, saying that they were initially short, but evolved to be long.
  • Darwin’s finches are probably the most well-known example of natural selection. These birds developed different shaped beaks and their function. Darwin noticed that they are all different on different Galapagos islands, which made he assume that the environment and the need to survive triggered changes in finches, making them evolve differently in various settings.
  • Some snakes and lizards developed venom to hunt prey and protecting from predators. There’s a theory that all venomous snakes evolved from one ancestor 170 million years ago and then diversified into Serpentes, Anguimorpha, and Iguania. In this perspective, there’s also another example of natural selection – many snake and lizard species lost the ability to produce venom due to changes in environment and diet.

Examples of natural selection in animals are numerous, and many of them are caused by sexual selection.

Sexual selection is a mode of natural selection which means “the advantage which certain individuals have over other individuals of the same sex and species solely in respect of reproduction,” as Darwin said

What exactly are we talking about here? Can be anything! Animals evolve a variety of traits that help males attract females and reproduce. It can be:

  • color,
  • size,
  • nest construction,
  • song,
  • courtship displays (like dance),
  • olfactory signaling.

Sexual selection often results in sexual dimorphism – when males and females of the same species look differently.

The most famous examples of sexual selection in animals are cases of sexual dimorphism:

  • Purple-rumped sunbird – males of this species have bright yellow breast and maroon mantle.
  • Peacock – males of this species have bright and large tails to attract females.
  • Chameleon – males have horns to attract females.
  • Song sparrows – males with large repertoire have better lifetime fitness.
  • Lions – male lions have manes.
  • Deer – male deer have large antlers.

Now let’s proceed to examples of natural selection in plants – they aren’t any less interesting 👇

   🌱 Examples of Natural Selection in Plants

Example of natural selection in plants, Venus' Fly Trap

Venus’ Fly Trap plant (or Dionaea muscipula in fancy Latin) is a carnivorous plant and one of the most common examples of natural selection in plants. Normal plants get vital nitrogen from the soil, but this beauty had to get creative because there’s no nitrogen in the soil where it grows. So now it looks like something from a Steven King novel.

A lot of examples of evolution in plants are artificial selection – evolution triggered and facilitated by humans. Artificial selection is what gave us orange carrots, edible melons, all kinds of kale veggies (they all evolved from wild mustard), and corn (that evolved from teosinte).

Examples of natural selection include:

  • Cactus – this plant developed needles to protect from animals
  • Giant hogweed – highly poisonous plant that evolved as a defense mechanism. This also refers to other toxic plants
  • Venus’ flytrap – snap trap plant that evolved from another carnivorous plant Drosera, which uses a sticky trap to catch prey. This plant consumes large terrestrial bugs, which is why it evolved to snap rather than use the sticky trap. For instance, Drosera uses sticky trap because it catches small bugs and spiders. It is interesting that carnivorous plants evolved as a result of adaptation to the environment. The soil where they grow lacks nitrogen, which is vital for plant survival. The insects they prey on provide the nitrogen plants need
  • Many flowers evolved to smell a certain way to attract pollinators – animals that basically ‘help’ plants make fruits or seeds by transporting pollen. For instance, carrion flowers smell like rotten meat because their pollinators are mostly scavenging flies and beetles, so to reproduce they needed to evolve scent that attracts these animals
  • Nuts have developed hard shells to deter birds.

Now you can see that examples of natural selection are numerous. In this article, I did my best to cover the major types and variations of evolution by natural selection and include examples of evolution by natural selection for you to use. If you are struggling with your natural selection homework, you can contact our Geeks by sharing your task or leaving a comment below – I’ll do my best to help you figure any sampling strategy out.

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