Historical and contingent factors affect re-evolution of a complex feature lost during mass extinction in communities of digital organisms


G. Yedid, Nanjing Institute of Geology and Palaeontology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, 39 Beijing East Road, Nanjing, Jiangsu, 210008 China.
Tel.: +86 25 83282105; fax: +86 25 83357026; e-mail: gyedid02@gmail.com


Re-evolution of complex biological features following the extinction of taxa bearing them remains one of evolution’s most interesting phenomena, but is not amenable to study in fossil taxa. We used communities of digital organisms (computer programs that self-replicate, mutate and evolve), subjected to periods of low resource availability, to study the evolution, loss and re-evolution of a complex computational trait, the function EQU (bit-wise logical equals). We focused our analysis on cases where the pre-extinction EQU clade had surviving descendents at the end of the extinction episode. To see if these clades retained the capacity to re-evolve EQU, we seeded one set of multiple subreplicate ‘replay’ populations using the most abundant survivor of the pre-extinction EQU clade, and another set with the actual end-extinction ancestor of the organism in which EQU re-evolved following the extinction episode. Our results demonstrate that stochastic, historical, genomic and ecological factors can lead to constraints on further adaptation, and facilitate or hinder re-evolution of a complex feature.