CLADISTIC TESTS OF ADAPTATIONAL HYPOTHESES

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Abstract

Abstract— A cladistic viewpoint provides an historical definition of adaptation and an operational ecological test for evolutionary adaptations. Adaptation is apomorphic function promoted by natural selection, as compared with plesiomorphic function. Adaptation is thus a conditional, hierarchical, comparative term, like homology. Hypotheses of adaptation that do not specify levels of apomorphy are weak; they should refer to and explain the function at the level at which it is apomorphic with respect to the plesiomorphic (outgroup) condition. The adaptational hypothesis serves as a prior prediction in the comparison of the apomorphic function of the derived trait with the plesiomorphic function of the plesiomorphic trait serving as the null hypothesis. It is useful to distinguish whether hypotheses about characters identify selection as facilitating: 1) the origin of a character; 2) its maintenance; 3) neither; or 4) both. The latter two are uniformitarian and testable in a strong sense. The former two possibilities use ancillary arguments to protect the hypothesis of the role of natural selection in one way or another, but might still be tested by the weak criterion of plausibility. Given an hypothesis of both origin and maintenance due to selection, the test of adaptation may still be thwarted because only certain kinds of cladistic structure allow feasible tests. Few of the really classic and common examples of supraspecific adaptation survive this kind of cladistic test.

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