The Evolutionary Math Puzzle

The story of Darwin’s finches—the species of birds that Charles Darwin discovered with marked differences in many surface traits, each adapted to specific islands in the Galápagos—is well known. Based on their fundamental anatomical similarities, Darwin determined that the birds were all related and probably descended from a single ancestral species.

That evolution can be vastly accelerated on islands belonging to a single archipelago is now well established. In part, this is because of the small size of such islands and the isolation that they provide to an evolving species. In a recent Quanta article, “Mathematics Shows How to Ensure Evolution,” John Rennie described a mathematical study led by Martin Nowak, who directs an evolutionary dynamics lab at Harvard University, and Krishnendu Chatterjee, a computer scientist at the Institute of Science and Technology Austria. Their mathematical research shows how certain population structures can accelerate or slow down natural selection.

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