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First published July 1 2016

How ecological inheritance can affect the evolution of complex niche construction in a 2D physical simulation

Naoaki Chiba, Reiji Suzuki, and Takaya Arita

Abstract (Excerpt)

Niche construction is a process in which organisms modify the selection pressure on themselves and others through their ecological activities. Various evolutionary models of effects of niche construction on evolution have revealed that they bring about unexpected evolutionary scenarios. However, little is still known about how niche-constructing behaviors of complex physical structures (such as nest-building) can emerge through the course of evolution, even though it is one of the most ubiquitous and significant niche-constructing behaviors. Our purpose is to obtain knowledge of the emergence and evolution of physically-grounded niche construction and the effect of its ecological inheritance on evolution. We construct an evolutionary model in which a virtual organism has to arrive at a goal by constructing a physical niche composed of objects in a physically simulated environment. In particular, we focus on effects of the degree of ecological inheritance, which is represented as a weathering probability of ecologically inherited objects from a parent to its offspring. We show that it has a nonlinear effect on the adaptivity of the population. In the case of no ecological inheritance, adaptive niche-constructing behaviors such as valley-filling or ramp-placing strategies emerged, which created complex structures composed of multiple objects. It also turned out that the stable ecological inheritance of constructed structures could increase the adaptivity of the population by allowing an organism to maintain the inherited and adaptive structures while the unstable ecological inheritance rather decreases the adaptivity of the population by making previously adaptive structures maladaptive obstacles.