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Disruptive selection is a type of natural selection that selects against the average individual in a
population. The makeup of this type of population would show phenotypes (individuals with
groups of traits) of both extremes but have very few individuals in the middle. Disruptive
selection is the rarest of the three types of natural selection and can lead to the deviation in a
species line.

Basically, it comes down to the individuals in the group who get to mate—who survive best.
They are the ones who have traits on the extreme ends of the spectrum. The individual with just
middle-of-the-road characteristics is not as successful at survival and/or breeding to further pass
on "average" genes. In contrast, population functions in stabilizing selection mode when the
intermediate individuals are the most populous. Disruptive selection occurs in times of change,
such as habitat change or change in resources availability.

Disruptive Selection and Speciation

The bell curve is not typical in shape when exhibiting disruptive selection. In fact, it looks almost
like two separate bell curves. There are peaks at both extremes and a very deep valley in the
middle, where the average individuals are represented. Disruptive selection can lead to
speciation, with two or more different species forming and the middle-of-the-road individuals
being wiped out. Because of this, it's also called "diversifying selection," and it drives evolution.

Disruptive selection happens in large populations with lots of pressure for the individuals to find
advantages or niches as they compete with each other for food to survive and/or partners to pass
on their lineage.

Like directional selection, disruptive selection can be influenced by human interaction.

Environmental pollution can drive disruptive selection to choose different colorings in animals
for survival.

Disruptive Selection Examples: Color

Color, in regards to camouflage, serves as a useful example in many different kinds of species,
because those individuals that can hide from predators the most effectively will live the longest.
If an environment has extremes, those who don't blend into either will be eaten the most quickly,
whether they're moths, oysters, toads, birds or another animal.

Peppered moths: One of the most studied examples of disruptive selection is the case of
London's peppered moths. In rural areas, the peppered moths were almost all a very light color.
However, these same moths were very dark in color in industrial areas. Very few medium-
colored moths were seen in either location. The darker-colored moths survived predators in the
industrial areas by blending in with the polluted surroundings. The lighter moths were seen
easily by predators in industrial areas and were eaten. The opposite happened in rural areas. The
medium-colored moths were easily seen in both locations and were therefore very few of them
left after disruptive selection.
Oysters: Light- and dark-colored oysters could also have a camouflage advantage as opposed to
their medium-colored relatives. Light-colored oysters would blend into the rocks in the shallows,
and the darkest would blend better into the shadows. The ones in the intermediate range would
show up against either backdrop, offering those oysters no advantage and make them easier prey.
Thus, with fewer of the medium individuals surviving to reproduce, the population eventually
has more oysters colored to either extreme of the spectrum.

Disruptive Selection Examples: Feeding Ability

Evolution and speciation isn't all a straight line. Often there are multiple pressures on a group of
individuals, or a drought pressure, for example, that is just temporary, so the intermediate
individuals don't completely disappear or don't disappear right away. Timeframes in evolution
are long. All types of diverging species can coexist if there are enough resources for them all.
Specialization in food sources among a population might occur in fits and starts, only when there
is some pressure on supply.

Mexican spadefoot toad tadpoles: Spadefoot tadpoles have higher populations in

narrow-bodied. The intermediate types are smaller (less well-fed) than those at either extreme of
body shape and eating habit. A study found that those at the extremes had additional, alternate
food resources that the intermediates didn't. The more omnivorous ones fed more effectively on
pond detritus, and the more carnivorous ones were better at feeding on shrimps. Intermediate
types competed with each other for food, resulting in individuals with ability on the extremes to
eat more and grow faster and better.

Darwin's finches on the Galapagos: Fifteen different species developed from a common
ancestor, which existed 2 million years ago. They differ in beak style, body size, feeding
behavior, and song. Multiple types of beaks have adapted to different food resources, over time.
In the case of three species on Santa Cruz Island, ground finches eat more seeds and some
arthropods, tree finches eat more fruits and arthropods, vegetarian finches feed on leaves and
fruit, and warblers typically eat more arthropods. When food is abundant, what they eat overlaps.
When it's not, this specialization, the ability to eat a certain type of food better than other species,
helps them survive.
Directional selection is one type of natural selection in which the phenotype (the observable
characteristics) of the species tends toward one extreme rather the mean phenotype or the
opposite extreme phenotype. Directional selection is one of three widely studied types of natural
selection, in addition to stabilizing selection and disruptive selection. In stabilizing selection, the
extreme phenotypes gradually reduce in number in favor of the mean phenotype, while in
disruptive selection, the mean phenotype shrinks in favor of extremes in either direction.

Conditions Leading to Directional Selection

The directional selection phenomenon is usually seen in environments that have changed over
time. Changes in weather, climate, or food availability can lead to directional selection. In a very
timely example connected to climate change, sockeye salmon have recently been observed
shifting the timing of their spawn run in Alaska, likely due to rising water temperatures.

In a statistical analysis of natural selection, directional selection shows a population bell curve
for a particular trait that shifts either further left or further right. However, unlike stabilizing
selection, the height of the bell curve does not change. There are far fewer "average" individuals
in a population that has undergone directional selection.

Human interaction can also speed up directional selection. For example, human hunters or
fishermen pursuing quarry most often kill the bigger individuals of the population for their meat
or other large ornamental or useful parts. Over time, this causes the population to skew toward
the smaller individuals. A directional selection bell curve for size will show a shift to the left in
this example of directional selection. Animal predators can also create directional selection.
Because slower individuals in a prey population are more likely to be killed and eaten,
directional selection will gradually skew the population toward faster individuals. A bell curve
plotting species size will skew toward the right when documenting this form of directional


As one of the common forms of natural selection, there are plentiful examples of directional
selection that have studied and documented. Some well-known cases:

 Charles Darwin studied what later became known as directional selection while he was in
the Galapagos Islands. He observed that the beak length of the Galapagos finches changed over
time due to available food sources. When there was a lack of insects to eat, finches with larger
and deeper beaks survived because the beak structure was useful for cracking seeds. Over time,
as insects became more plentiful, directional selection began to favor finches with smaller and
longer beaks that were more useful for catching insects.
 Fossil records show that black bears in Europe decreased in size during periods between
continental glacial coverage during the ice ages, but increased in size during the glacial period.
 was likely because larger individual enjoyed an advantage in conditions of limited food supplies
and extreme cold.
 In 18th and 19th century England peppered moths who had been predominantly white in order
to blend in with light colored trees began to evolve into a predominantly dark species in order to
blend in with an environment that was becoming increasingly covered with soot from Industrial
Revolution factories.

Stabilizing selection in evolution is a type of natural selection that favors the average
individuals in a population. It is one of five types of selection processes used in evolution: The
others are directional selection (which decreases the genetic variation), diversifying or disruptive
selection (which shifts genetic variation to adjust to environmental changes), sexual selection
(which defines and adapts to notions of "attractive" features of the individuals), and artificial
selection (which is the deliberate selection by humans, such as that of the processes of animal
and plant domestication).

Classic examples of traits that resulted from stabilizing selection include human birth weight,
number of offspring, camouflage coat color, and cactus spine density.

Stabilizing Selection

 Stabilizing selection is one of three main types of natural selection in evolution. The
others are directional and diversifying selection.
 Stabilizing selection is the most common of those processes.
 The result of stabilizing is the over-representation in a specific trait. For example, the
coats of a species of mice in a forest will all be the best color to act as camouflage in their
 Other examples include human birth weight, the number of eggs a bird lays, and the
density of cactus spines.

Stabilizing selection is the most common of these processes, and it's responsible for many of the
characteristics of plants, humans and other animals.

Meaning and Causes of Stabilizing Selection

The stabilizing process is one that results statistically in an over-represented norm. In other
words, this happens when the selection process—in which certain members of a species survive
to reproduce while others do not—winnows out all the behavioral or physical choices down to a
single set. In technical terms, stabilizing selection discards the extreme phenotypes and instead
favors the majority of the population that is well adapted to their local environment. Stabilizing
selection is often shown on a graph as a modified bell curve where the central portion is
narrower and taller than the normal bell shape.
Polygenic traits tend to result in a distribution that resembles a bell-shaped curve, with few at the
extremes and most in the middle. David Remahl/Wikimedia Commons

Diversity in a population is decreased due to stabilizing selection—genotypes which are not

selected are reduced and can disappear. However, this does not mean that all individuals are
exactly the same. Often, mutation rates in DNA within a stabilized population are actually a bit
higher statistically than those in other types of populations. This and other kinds of
microevolution keep the "stabilized" population from becoming too homogeneous and allow the
population the ability to adapt to future environmental changes.

Stabilizing selection works mostly on traits that are polygenic. This means that more than one
gene controls the phenotype and so there is a wide range of possible outcomes. Over time, some
of the genes that control the characteristic can be turned off or masked by other genes, depending
on where the favorable adaptations are coded. Since stabilizing selection favors the middle of the
road, a blend of the genes is often what is seen.

Examples of Stabilizing Selection

There are several classic examples in animals and humans of the results of stabilizing selection

 Human birth weight, especially in underdeveloped countries and in the past of the
developed world, is a polygenetic selection which is controlled by environmental factors.
Infants with low birth weight will be weak and experience health problems, while large
babies will have problems passing through the birth canal. Babies with average birth
weight are more likely to survive than a baby that is too small or too large. The intensity
of that selection has decreased as medicine has improved—in other words, the definition
of "average" has changed. More babies survive even if they might have been too small in
the past (a situation resolved by a few weeks in an incubator) or too large (resolved by
Caesarian section).
 Coat coloration in several animals is tied to their ability to hide from predator attacks.
Small animals with coats that match their environments more closely are more likely to
survive than those with darker or lighter coats: stabilizing selection results in an average
coloration that's not too dark or too light.

 Cactus spine density: Cacti have two sets of predators: peccaries which like to eat cactus
fruits with fewer spines and parasitic insects which like cacti that have very dense spines
to keep their own predators away. Successful, long-lived cacti have an average number of
spines to help ward off both.
 The number of offspring: Many animals produce multiple offspring at once (known as
r-selected species). Stabilizing selection results in an average number of offspring, which
is an average between too many (when there is a danger of malnourishment) and too few
(when the chance of no survivors is highest).