Can fitness differences be a cause of evolution?

Philosophy, Theory, and Practice in Biology 5 (20130604):1-13 (2013)
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Biological fitness is a foundational concept in the theory of natural selection. Natural selection is often defined in terms of fitness differences as “any consistent difference in fitness (i.e., survival and reproduction) among phenotypically different biological entities” (Futuyma 1998, 349). And in Lewontin’s (1970) classic articulation of the theory of natural selection, he lists fitness differences as one of the necessary conditions for evolution by natural selection to occur. Despite this foundational position of fitness, there remains much debate over the nature of fitness, especially whether fitness differences can truly be said to cause evolutionary change. In recent years these debates have crystalized into two camps: (1) causalists, who see fitness differences as being one of the causes of evolutionary change, and (2) statisticalists, who deny the causal efficacy of fitness and instead hold that “fitness is a mere statistical, noncausal property of trait types” (Walsh 2010, 148)



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