Natural Selection: Responses to Current (Anthropogenic) Environmental Changes


Human‐caused changes in the environment are pervasive, as are evolutionary responses to these changes by living organisms. Selective responses to anthropogenic environmental change have thus been the topic of extensive research, providing hundreds of well‐documented cases of natural selection in action. Many of these responses are also of great importance from an ecological, economic and human health perspective.

Keywords: evolution; global environmental change; ecological genetics

Figure 1.

Schematic illustration of selection effects on populations with broad versus narrow response breadths. The population with a broad response displays sufficient genetic variability to respond to a change in environmental state, whereas the population with a narrow response would go extinct in response to this selection pressure.

Figure 2.

Evolved resistance to the biological insecticide Bt in the diamondback moth Plutella xylostella, and important pest of cabbage and related vegetables (Tabashnik, ). (a) Susceptible strains are rapidly killed following exposure to Bt, resulting in undamaged cabbage leaves. (b) Caterpillars from a resistant population of diamondback moth eat a Bt‐treated cabbage leaf with impunity. Photographs courtesy of Bruce Tabashnik, University of Arizona.



Hickey DA and McNeilly T (1975) Competition between metal tolerant and normal plant populations: a field experiment on normal soil. Evolution 29: 458–464.

Huey RB and Kingsolver JG (1993) Evolution of resistance to high temperature in ectotherms. American Naturalist 142: S21–46.

Kareiva PM, Kingsolver JG and Huey RB (eds) (1993) Biotic Interactions and Global Change. Sunderland, MA: Sinauer.

Levin BR, Lipsitch M, Perrot V et al. (1997) The population genetics of antibiotic resistance. Clinical Infectious Diseases 24: S9–S16.

Levins R (1968) Evolution in Changing Environments: Some Theoretical Explorations. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Neu HC (1992) The crisis in antibiotic resistance. Science 257: 1064–1073.

Roush RT and McKenzie JA (1987) Ecological genetics of insecticide and acaricide resistance. Annual Review of Entomology 32: 361–380.

Shaw AJ (ed.) (1991) Heavy Metal Tolerance in Plants: Evolutionary Aspects. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press.

Tabashnik BE (1994) Evolution of resistance to Bacillus thuringiensis. Annual Review of Entomology 39: 47–49.

Taylor GE, Pitelka LF and Clegg MT (eds) (1991) Ecological Genetics and Air Pollution. Berlin: Springer–Verlag.

Thomas SC and Jasienski M (1996) Genetic variability and the nature of microevolutionary responses to elevated CO2. In: Körner Ch and Bazzaz FA (eds) Carbon Dioxide: Populations and Communities, pp. 51–81. San Diego, CA: Academic Press.

Further Reading

Bradshaw AD and McNeilly T (1991) Evolutionary response to global climate change. Annals of Botany 67: S5–S14.

Endler JA (1986) Natural Selection in the Wild. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Hoffmann AA and Parsons PA (1991) Evolutionary Genetics and Environmental Stress. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Körner C and Bazzaz FA (eds) (1996) Carbon Dioxide, Populations, and Communities. San Diego, CA: Academic Press.

Woodwell GM (ed.) (1990) The Earth in Transition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Contact Editor close
Submit a note to the editor about this article by filling in the form below.

* Required Field

How to Cite close
Thomas, Sean C, and Kingsolver, Joel G(Sep 2001) Natural Selection: Responses to Current (Anthropogenic) Environmental Changes. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1038/npg.els.0001789]