Efficiency in Evolutionary Trade-Offs

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Science  01 Jun 2012:
Vol. 336, Issue 6085, pp. 1114-1115
DOI: 10.1126/science.1223193

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Cheetahs are the fastest land animals on Earth. But why aren't they even faster? And how did leopards, which live in the same habitat but run only half as fast, survive the competition? Obviously, other conflicting evolutionary factors exist besides speed. Cheetahs are worse tree-climbers than leopards, probably due to their semiretractable claws that are a disadvantage in climbing but an advantage in running. Evolution constantly faces such trade-offs between tasks (or objectives), but it is very difficult to know exactly what these tasks are and to quantify how performance at a particular task affects an organism's overall fitness. Two studies—by Shoval et al. (1) on page 1157 in this issue and by Schuetz et al. (2).examine the underlying balance of contrasting objectives in a plethora of biological observations ranging from morphological features like beak and wing shapes to bacterial metabolism. Both studies employ a key concept from economics and engineering—the Pareto front.