How Organisms Change Their Environment and Themselves

Jim Crocker
26th April, 2024

How Organisms Change Their Environment and Themselves

Image Source: Natural Science News, 2024

Key Findings

  • Study from Universität Göttingen explores how organisms adapt by transforming their environments
  • Temporary environmental changes don't offer new insights, but prolonged changes affect organism adaptability
  • Organisms can adapt within a single episode by altering their modifying environment, impacting immediate adaptability
Understanding how organisms adapt to their environments is a cornerstone of evolutionary biology. A recent study from Universität Göttingen[1] sheds new light on this complex process by examining the dual roles environments play in shaping the traits of organisms. These roles are modifying, which influences the development of traits, and adaptive, which determines how suitable these traits are for survival. This study not only integrates previous findings but also offers fresh insights into how organisms interact with their environments over time. The researchers focused on how organisms can transform their environments and how this transformation influences adaptation. They suggest that temporary environmental changes, which last for only one adaptational episode, do not offer new understanding because they are structurally equivalent to adaptation without any transformation. However, prolonged changes that span multiple episodes can affect how the modifying and adaptive functions of the environment coordinate with each other. Interestingly, these prolonged transformations may hinder the ability of organisms to maintain their adaptedness over time. One of the key revelations of the study is the distinction between transformations that affect the adaptive environment and those that affect the modifying environment. It turns out that successful adaptations to the adaptive environment, which do not alter the modifying environment, rely more on the diversity of system states than on the ability of an organism to change its traits (phenogenetic plasticity). This finding contrasts with the idea that the ability to change is always beneficial for survival. Furthermore, the study reveals that an organism can achieve adaptation within a single episode by transforming the modifying environment, even if the adaptive environment does not change. This suggests that the modifying environment has a more direct impact on the immediate adaptability of an organism than previously thought. The concept of migration is also reinterpreted in this study. Migration is seen as a form of environmental transformation, where instead of the environment changing around the organism, the organism moves to a different environment. This perspective could help refine existing models of adaptation and inform the development of new ones. This recent work builds on prior studies that have explored the extended influence of genes beyond the physical body of an organism[2]. The idea of extended phenotypes suggests that the traits an organism expresses can affect, and be affected by, the environment in significant ways. For example, populations that produce and share extended phenotypes, such as beaver dams or spider webs, tend to have higher fitness[3]. This supports the idea that the extended influence of genes can shape evolutionary outcomes. Moreover, the study aligns with the concept of adaptational systems, which are composed of modifying, comparator, and state regulation systems[4]. These systems work together to ensure that an organism's responses are well-suited to its environment. The current research expands on this by considering how the transformation of the environment by the organism itself plays into this adaptational framework. In conclusion, the study from Universität Göttingen provides a nuanced understanding of adaptation by considering the complex interplay between organisms and their environments. It highlights the importance of environmental transformations, both temporary and prolonged, and their impact on the adaptational process. By integrating and extending previous models and theories, this research offers a more comprehensive view of how organisms survive and thrive in ever-changing environments.



Main Study

1) Adaptation through organism-induced environmental transformations—a systems representation

Published 25th April, 2024

Related Studies

2) Evolutionary models of extended phenotypes.

3) The Shared Use of Extended Phenotypes Increases the Fitness of Simulated Populations.

4) The adaptational system as a dynamical feedback system.

Journal: Journal of theoretical biology, Issue: Vol 189, Issue 1, Nov 1997

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