The adaptive landscape in evolutionary biology Ryan Calsbeek (Visiting Scholar)
The adaptive landscape is one of the most useful heuristics for understanding evolutionary processes. Sewall Wright originally envisioned the adaptive landscape as a surface representing mean population fitness across combinations of multiple gene frequencies. He described the process of adaptive evolution as populations moving up-hill towards local peaks in average population fitness. The model envisioned by Wright has since been formalized mathematically and employed empirically by a suite of seminal papers in evolutionary biology. In recent decades, the adaptive landscape has been modified to represent local peaks and valleys in individual fitness across multivariate trait combinations. This shift in to an individual adaptive landscape has allowed biologists to document selection and adaptation in the wild. Still, the adaptive landscape is not free from controversy, and some have criticized the model as an oversimplified metaphor for how selection actually works in nature. Anticipating the 80-year anniversary of Wright’s (1932) landmark paper, I propose to combine a working group with a NESCent sabbatical, to synthesize the diverse perspectives on adaptive landscapes into a multi-authored paper. The review will answer questions about the current and future relevance of adaptive landscapes in evolutionary biology, and would complement an edited volume recently approved by Oxford University Press and co-edited by my colleague Erik Svensson. A sub-set of chapter authors would participate in a working group, along with interested NESCent post-docs, and academics from the local Universities surrounding NESCent. I would then spend my sabbatical time at NESCent writing the synthesis.