First published 2 July 2012
Evolutionary Potential is Maximized at Intermediate Diversity Levels
Bess L. Walker, Charles Ofria
Diversity in a population is often cited as a major facilitator for the evolution of new complex features. The intuition behind this dynamic is that if a population is exploring multiple regions of a fitness landscape, more opportunities exist to find new functionality. We use the digital evolution software platform Avida to explore the effect of multiple limited resources on phenotypic Shannon diversity and, in turn, on evolvability of populations. We show that Shannon diversity peaks at intermediate levels of resource availability to the population, and we map the evolvability of a complex computational task on this availability-diversity gradient. While the evolvability of the complex task is highest at intermediate availabilities, it does not peak at the same resource inflow level as Shannon diversity, and it is more robust than diversity in its response to inflow level. These results indicate that while phenotypic Shannon diversity may play into the evolution of complex features, the selective pressures caused by diversity cannot be the only — or indeed even the main — pressures behind such evolution.