Examples of simple types of adaptive landscapes. (A)–(C) give examples for the complexity of the corresponding type of adaptive landscape. (D) illustrates the principle that adaptive walks on high-dimensional landscapes reaching a local optimum in some dimension may continue to even higher peaks by optimising other dimensions – if genetic correlations allow this and the relevant parts of the landscape remain constant for long enough. In this example, the black line denotes a hypothetical adaptive walk, which follows the steepest ascent to a first saddle point on the blue ridge, then continues to optimise by changing direction to follow that ridge until it reaches a second saddle point on the green ridge, only to change again directions before reaching its optimum in that landscape. For such a scenario, this landscape must be independent of environmental or other changes during the adaptive walk and new mutations must be capable of producing individuals that represent random steps in that landscape. These random steps can be achieved by sequential steps in different dimensions, if reciprocal sign epistasis does not prohibit this . (E) illustrates how a cross section of the most fine-grained adaptive landscape might look like. Here each dimension corresponds to one functional DNA sequence position in the genome. The number of possible steps within each such dimension is small, even if the example given is extended to include the absence of the base and epigenetically methylated bases. In such landscapes the simplicity of options within one dimension is countered by an extraordinary complexity of epistatic interactions between dimensions. All landscapes shown are completely arbitrary and serve only illustrative purposes. See the main text for a guide to the nomenclature of types of adaptive landscapes and the various definitions of height ('fitness' or traits that are correlated with it) and plane ('genotypes' or traits encoded by them). The latter two depend on the level of the adaptive landscape.
Loewe BMC Systems Biology 2009 3:27 doi:10.1186/1752-0509-3-27