During the last 70 years Sewall Wright's (1932) metaphor of 'fitness landscapes', which are also known as 'adaptive landscapes', 'adaptive topographies', and 'surfaces of selective value', has been a standard tool for visualizing biological evolution and speciation. Wright's metaphor is widely considered as one of his most important contributions to evolutionary biology. Moreover, the notion of fitness landscapes has proved extremely useful well outside of evolutionary biology (e.g., in computer science, engineering, biochemistry, and philosophy).
A key idea of evolutionary biology is that individuals in a population differ in fitness (because they have different genes and/or have experienced different environments). Differences in fitness that have genetic bases are the most important ones because it is changes in genes that make adaptation and innovations permanent. The relationship between genes and fitness (direct or mediated via phenotype) is obviously of fundamental importance. Wright's metaphor of fitness landscapes provides a simple way to visualize this relationship. Implicitly, it also emphasizes the role of specific biological mechanisms and patterns in evolutionary dynamics.
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