The University of Sussex

No pain, no gain: landscapes, learning costs and genetic assimilation

Giles Mayley

The evolution of a population can be guided by adaptive traits that are acquired by members of that population during their lifetime. This phenomenon, known as the Baldwin Effect, can speed the evolutionary process as traits that are initially acquired become genetically specified in later generations. This paper presents conditions under which this genetic assimilation can take place. As well as the benefits that lifetime adaptation can give a population, there may be a cost to be paid for that adapative ability. It is the evolutionary trade-off between these costs and benefits that provides the selection pressure for acquired traits to become genetically specified. It is also noted that genotypic space, in which evolution operates, and phenotypic space, on which adaptive processes (such as learning) operate, are, in general, of a fundamentally different nature. For an acquired characteristic to become genetically specified, then these spaces must have the property of neighbourhood correlation which means that a small distance between two individuals in phenotypic space implies that there is a small distance between the same two individuals in genotypic space.

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