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PDF 866 KB
Pages 487–494
First published 20 July 2015

How Much Should You Select for Evolvability?

Andrew M. Webb, Julia Handl, and Joshua Knowles


We consider whether selection for evolvability leads to greater adaptive progress than selection for adaptedness alone. Our treatment bears on longstanding discussions of selection for evolvability in the literature, which have been largely limited to conceptual and qualitative arguments to date. We study a simple mathematical model of a population of individuals whose adaptedness and evolvability (here modelled as the standard deviation of mutations affecting adaptedness) are both under selective forces. In the special case of a population of size two, we show that the optimal amount of selection for evolvability depends on the ratio between the initial evolvability and the amount that evolvability can increase in the time given. Our result shows that to maximize the amount of adaptation it never pays off to select for evolvability more than to select for adaptedness itself. We have not answered the question of to what degree evolvability is selected for in nature, however we have made a small step in quantitative modelling of the evolution of evolvability and proved the existence of conditions under which selection for evolvability has a demonstrably positive effect.