In search of the origin of the capacity for evolution: is competition necessary to survive?

A group of scientists from several American universities have been observing for some time that species are increasingly able to evolve in response to changes in the environment. But, according to computer researchers, associating competition with survival in the environment is not really necessary to increase the capacity for evolution.

In an article published this week in PLoS ONE, researchers report that they can increase the capacity for evolution over generations, regardless of whether the species compete for food, habitat or other factors.

Through a simulation model that they have designed to mimic how organisms evolve, the researchers observed the increase in evolutionary capacity, even without competitive pressure.

The explanation is that "evolutionary" organisms naturally separate from the less "evolutionary" over time, becoming increasingly diverse

Said Kenneth O. Stanley, associate professor of the Faculty of Engineering and Computer Science at the University of Central Florida. He co-wrote the study together with Joel Lehman, a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Texas in Austin.

The finding could have implications for the origin of the evolution capacity of many species.

When new species appear, they are more likely to descend from those that were able to evolve in the past

Lehman says.

The result is that "evolutionary" species accumulate over time, even without selective pressure

During the tests, the organisms simulated by the team became more "evolvable" without the competitive pressure of other organisms. Simulations are based on a conceptual algorithm.

The algorithms used for the simulations are based, abstractly, on the evolution organisms, but specifically on none of the real life

Lehman explains.

The team's hypothesis is unique and contrasts other theories on "why the capacity for evolution increases."

An important consequence of this result is that traditional explanations of selection and adaptation for phenomena such as increased evolution, deserve more scrutiny and are unnecessary in some cases

Stanley concludes.