Environment affects an organism's complexity

Jan 02, 2014

Scientists have demonstrated that organisms with greater complexity are more likely to evolve in complex environments, according to research published this week in PLOS Computational Biology. The researchers, based at École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne and University of Vermont, created a programme that simulated the evolution of virtual creatures in a variety of landscapes.

Each virtual organism was made using a particular form of genetic encoding to create three-dimensional models and then simulated in a physically-realistic virtual world. Creatures that evolved in flat landscapes had a simple shape, but could not adequately navigate more complex environments. Later environments were designed with elevated "ice blocks". These obstacles were constructed so that each organism had to reach inside the gaps between the blocks to move forwards.

Overall, the researchers found that the investigated environments actively induced selection on the body plans and nervous systems of the simulated creatures. More complex landscapes led to more than simpler environments due to the cost inherent in morphological complexity: evolution only produces complex body shapes in environments that demand them.

Study author Joshua Auerbach comments:

"Our work supports the idea that the morphological complexity of organisms is influenced by the complexity of the environments in which they evolve. While our work does not prove anything about , it does provide a new methodology for investigating questions about the evolution of complexity in silico."

Explore further: Environmental complexity promotes biodiversity

More information: PLoS Comput Biol 10(1): e1003399. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1003399

Related Stories

Environmental complexity promotes biodiversity

Sep 17, 2013

A new study published in the journal American Naturalist helps explain how spatial variation in natural environments helps spur evolution and give rise to biodiversity.

Complexity not so costly after all, analysis shows

Sep 27, 2010

The more complex a plant or animal, the more difficulty it should have adapting to changes in the environment. That's been a maxim of evolutionary theory since biologist Ronald Fisher put forth the idea in 1930.

Recommended for you

Herbivore drool defeats fungal defence

58 minutes ago

A report in Biology Letters shows that the drool of herbivores might help defeat the toxic fungal defences of the plants they graze on.

User comments : 4

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Returners
1 / 5 (3) Jan 02, 2014
Scientists have demonstrated that organisms with greater complexity are more likely to evolve in complex environments, according to research published this week in PLOS Computational Biology.


You can easily say the same thing for anything that has been designed. If you have a simple task, you make a simple tool. If you have a complex task, you make a complex tool, or set of tools.

Since I highly doubt we have computer programs which can accurately model DNA and cell growth enough to predict the morphology of an organism, it seems obvious to me that the computer program is over-simplified compared to real life anyway.

I have seen, for example, on some Science television programs, simulated environments for various creatures, but the truth is the scientists "seeded" the environment with the types of creatures they thought ought to be there (though alien and exotic compared to Earth standards).

Can't reach between blocks where food might be? Obviously dies. No big deal really.
Torbjorn_Larsson_OM
5 / 5 (1) Jan 02, 2014
Creationist trolling, always amusing.

Never mind that we have known for over 150 years that evolution applies in biology, and hence ideas of magic were utterly erroneous. Nature is atheist, some people isn't. Their loss.
Zephir_fan
Jan 02, 2014
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
VENDItardE
3 / 5 (2) Jan 02, 2014
ie the more liberal the environment the simpler the organism,,,,i totally agree
Captain Stumpy
4 / 5 (1) Jan 03, 2014
You can easily say the same thing for anything that has been designed. If you have a simple task, you make a simple tool. If you have a complex task, you make a complex tool, or set of tools.


@Returners
serious question: what about using a simple tool for complex tasks?

a knife is a simple tool, but can be used for complex tasks, not just for cutting.

IMHO- you dont always need a complex tool for a complex task.