A biological adaptation is a structure, physiological process, or behavioral trait of an organism that has evolved incrementally through natural selection in response to increases in reproductive success in the organisms that showed those traits most strongly. Four major types of adaptations affect population dynamics, and in turn are shaped by population dynamics. Structural adaptations are special body parts of an organism that help it to survive in its natural habitat, for example, its skin color, shape, and body covering. Behavioral adaptations are ways in which a particular organism behaves to survive in its natural habitat. Physiological adaptations are systems present in an organism that allow it to perform certain biochemical reactions optimally, while life-history adaptations are parameters affecting growth and reproduction such as age at sexual maturity, reproductive investment, body size, and longevity.

Here, we will not distinguish adaptations (features produced by natural selection for their current function), from exaptations (features that perform functions, which were produced by natural selection, but not for their current use). We will emphasize the fact that adaptations are both a cause and a consequence of population dynamics. ''Most behavioural and life-history theory assumes populations with stable dynamics, yet considerable empirical work shows that natural selection constantly changes population structure, resulting in disequilibrium, and hence unstable population dynamics.'' Adaptations can be relatively fixed (genetically based and slow to evolve), or highly plastic (changing from moment to moment, or evolving quickly), or both.

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