Diversifying Selection in Heterogeneous Environments

Within a population, disruptive selection occurs when extreme phenotypes are preferred over intermediate ones. This sort of selection increases a trait's variation and can split a population into two different groups. If the two groups formed by disruptive selection mate assortatively, they can diverge to establish species. Peter R. Grant, B. Rosemary Grant, and others' studies of Darwin's finches on the Galapagos Islands support the concept that disruptive selection has led to speciation. This study found that competition for similar food supplies induced considerable disruptive selection on beak size and form.

Due to competition, selection favours a bimodal distribution of beak forms, which allows finches to specialise on diverse food resources. Differences in beak shape are connected with variance in food as well as variation in mating songs and mate selection. As a result, assortative mating is assumed to be a byproduct of disruptive selection on beak shape in this system.

Natural Selection of Heterogeneous Environments: Diversifying Selection

In explaining normalizing selection, it was stated that in uniform conditions, selection restricts population variability and generates genetic homeostasis. Diversifying selection refers to the sort of selection process that takes place in diverse contexts. The inverse of normalizing selection is diversifying selection.

For example, assume that a population inhabiting a specific environment contains two or more genotype groups (AA, Aa, and aa) and encounters sub-environments or habitats. Among the two or more genotypes, a rare genotype (aa) that is well suited to its environment will be encouraged by the selection, and its frequency will grow as long as the habitat is not entirely occupied.

However, once the habitat is saturated, there is no further growth in the frequency of that genotype. The extra population is quite likely to spread to another sub-environment. Diversifying selection may generate a population of diverse genotypes if the genotype is not suited to the new habitat.

Genetic Polymorphism

Genetic polymorphism refers to the presence of two or more genotypes for a particular characteristic in a population. Distinct genotypes occupy distinct sub-environments; such occupancy is as thorough and efficient as feasible. Through their research on bentgrass growing on heavy metal-polluted soils, A.D. Bradshaw and D. Jonell showed that populations might become genetically diverse while remaining physically adjacent.

Heavy metal pollutants such as lead and copper are prevalent in mine refuse heaps, and the pollution is poisonous to most plants, even bentgrasses growing in uncontaminated soils. On spoil heaps, however, abundant growth of bentgrasses could be detected. Essentially, such plants contain genes that give tolerance to high levels of lead and copper. A few meters from the uncontaminated soils, one could see resistant bentgrass plants surrounded by non-resistant kinds. Diversified selection is efficient.

Although cross-pollination between resistant and non-resistant types is possible, the genetic distinction is preserved due to non-resistant seedlings' incapacity to develop in contaminated soil. In contrast, they outgrow resistant kinds in uncontaminated soils. Given that some of the mines are less than 400 years old, it is clear that diversifying selection has resulted in resistant forms in a relatively short period.

Infrequency of Disruptive Selection

Since disruptive selection is unstable over time, it is likely to be infrequent. The dominating influence of selection in the population becomes more directed when the phenotypic distribution of a characteristic changes towards one side or the other of the convex function. Temporal oscillations in selection are required for disruptive selection to persist.

The most significant of these may be negative frequency-dependent selection, in which the fitness associated with a trait value is determined by its frequency of occurrence. If unusual values are always more fit, this has the effect of rocking the convex function back and forth between generations, preserving the average shape of disruptive selection across time. A range of organisms with polymorphism feeding strategies and colour patterns have been reported to exhibit negative frequency dependent selection.

Flower colour polymorphisms, such as the orchid Dactylorhiza sambucina's yellow or purple inflorescences, can be preserved in this way. Pollinators of D. sambucina are not rewarded for their efforts, and they learn to avoid the most regularly observed bloom colour, giving uncommon varieties an advantage.

Each mode's phenotypic selection has been well demonstrated in nature. Joel Kingsolver and colleagues examined the bulk of these experiments and discovered that directional selection is the most prevalent method found. It is stronger than many experts predict, with an average of roughly s = 0.15, or a shift of 15% of one standard deviation every generation.

Despite the assumption that most selection should be stabilising, directional selection is more prevalent. In reality, disruptive selection occurs with almost the same frequency and power as stabilising selection. These trends may be impacted by researchers' proclivity to examine selection in characteristics suspected of undergoing directional selection, as well as the statistical difficulties in discovering nonlinear functions.

Sympatric Speciation

It is critical to remember that disruptive selection does not necessarily have to be driven by intraspecific competition. It is also critical to understand that this sort of natural selection is comparable to others. Intraspecific rivalry can be neglected in examining the operational features of the path of adaptation if it is not a prominent influence. Polymorphisms, for example, that lead to reproductive isolation and subsequently speciation may drive disruptive selection rather than intraspecific competition.

When intraspecific competition drives disruptive selection, the ensuing selection promotes ecological niche diversity and polymorphisms. If various morphs (phenotypic forms) occupy diverse niches, it is reasonable to expect less rivalry for resources. Because intraspecific competition is more strong within higher density populations, disruptive selection occurs more frequently in high density populations than in low density populations.

This is because increasing population density frequently means more competition for resources. Polymorphisms use diverse niches or changes in niches to avoid competition as a result of the consequent competition. If one morph has no need for resources utilised by another morph, neither will be under pressure to compete or interact, hence maintaining the persistence and potentially intensification of the two morphs' distinctness within the population.

This notion does not have a lot of proof in natural populations, but it has been demonstrated numerous times in experimental circumstances with existing populations. These tests provide more evidence that, given the correct circumstances (as explained above), this hypothesis might show to be true in nature.


Diversifying or disruptive selection occurs when selection acts on a population spread throughout a varied environment. Each genotype occupies a heterogeneous sub-environment, causing the standard distribution curve to become bimodal. Each genotype has a different mean value for the characteristics in question.

Updated on: 04-May-2023


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