BIOL352-paper - Spandrels & Exaptation All forms of life...

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All forms of life are a result of the selective pressures exerted on traits with higher fitness in order for them to persist through time. Although natural selection is the only known direct causal process in the formation of complex life forms, there exist by-products of these forces that have persisted on as well. Stephen J. Gould and Richard Lewontin challenged the “functionalist” view of natural selection in which the organism is a set of individualized structures (i.e. traits), each optimized for a particular function in the environment. Not discounting the structure and organization of living systems, Gould and Lewontin coined the terms of spandrels and exaptation : characters which are constructed and are useful in virtue of their internal organization and structure, rather than by a process of natural selection. In their now-famed paper, "The Spandrels of San Marco and the Panglossian Paradigm: A Critique of the Adaptationist Programme" (1979), Gould and Lewontin use the architecture of Saint Mark’s Basilica in Venice to demonstrate the importance of structural features over functional interpretation. At first glance, one may assume that because the triangles in between arches are so decorated, they are the primary reason for the surrounding architecture. However, it is evident that the triangles are a byproduct of the arches built for support of a
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dome. Structures derived a posteriori to the original framework in both art and architecture are called spandrels. Gould and Lewontin argue that in biology, these spandrels can serve as metaphors for structures that “design the physical properties – form, position, constitution and number – which must arise as inevitable consequences of primary reasons or alterations” (Gould & Lewontin, 1979). In the evolutionary history of vertebrates, an example can be
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This note was uploaded on 04/07/2008 for the course BIOL 352 taught by Professor Larsson during the Spring '08 term at McGill.

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BIOL352-paper - Spandrels & Exaptation All forms of life...

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