Dr. Andreas Wagner's new work on evolution is a tightly written and well cited book on natural selection. The research for the book was exhaustive as seen in the more than 65 pages of notes, bibliography and index. The need for all of this important citation is clear. What Dr. Wagner is suggesting in Arrival of the Fittest is that based on his own research that random mutation, the essential driver of evolutionary adaptation, occurs much faster than Darwin could ever imagine.
The author is certainly well credentialed. He teaches evolution science at the University of Zurich and is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). As a proponent of fast-paced genomic change rather than the accepted Darwinian concept of slow accretion of gene modification over hundreds of generations, the author sends a clear message that the debate in evolutionary biology is far from over.
Frankly, whether you agree with Dr. Wagner's thesis or not, the fact that ongoing discussion continues more than one hundred and fifty years after the publication of Origin of Species, suggests that like all good science no one idea or individual can rest on their laurels.
And as new evidence accumulates the role science continues to play is to replicate and ultimately verify findings. So really there is no conflict here and open discussion ultimately enhances rather than detracts from the study of evolution science.
The author clearly suggests that the environment is a key factor in species adaptation. In an elegantly written final paragraph in one of the later book chapters he notes:
"...Environmental change requires complexity, which begets robustness, which begets genotype networks, which enable innovations, the very kind that allow life to cope with environmental change, increase its complexity, and so on, in an ascending spiral of ever-increasing innovability...is the hidden architecture of life"
And the author is no slouch in offering many examples in how quick genetic adaptation can provide many species with selective advantages to continue reproducing further generations. He suggests that many types of bacterias, e coli, certain fish and even modern lactose intolerance each serve as separate and modern examples for his thesis. He both observes and presents evidence which show that when hyper-fast environmental change occurs, the organism that can adapt quickest will have the selective advantage to rapidly modify, mutate and adapt within its niche.
Make no mistake, I enjoyed reading the book and I am very pleased to recommend it to the readers of the site. Each page requires contemplation and presence and that means time to digest and think about what the author proposes. So while this is not a page turner for a hot beach day (unless you're like me and like to read about evolution while at the beach) it is worth the reader's time and effort.
As I completed reading the work, the drumbeat of "Punctuated Equilibrium" kept ringing in my ears. It appears that Dr. Wagner is solidly in this evolutionary camp. And while it's not a bad place to be, I personally still conclude the bigger sandbox is the one which accepts Darwin's slow accretion (gradualism concept) but equally acknowledges that rapid evolutionary change can and does occur. However, such fast change remains the exception to the rule, and not the rule itself.