A thermodynamic perspective on natural selection

Acta Biotheoretica 46 (1) (1998)
A novel thermodynamic perspective on natural selection is presented. In the case that life continuity is optimized in an ideal system, where relatively constant and homogeneous selective pressures favour a given competing species, natural selection leads that system to a stationary state of maximum genotypic uniformity of life and maximum sustainable consumption of available energy by life (competitive equilibrium). Structurally and functionally, this optimizing tendency towards competitive equilibrium looks similar to the optimizing tendency towards thermodynamic equilibrium of classical thermodynamics (maximum energetic uniformity and maximum degradation of available energy). The principle of competitive exclusion may thus be conceptually viewed as an ecological manifestation of the second law of (classical) thermodynamics. On the other hand, the novel thermodynamic perspective on natural selection is discussed with regard to the open and nonequilibrium system of nature, where selective pressures vary in space and time. In this case, natural selection can induce diversity instead of uniformity, though an optimizing tendendcy towards maximum sustainable consumption of resources (optimization of life continuity) always remains. Overall, it is concluded that the action of natural selection favours the maximization of the sustainable consumption of energy at the level of individual organism.
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