Convergent evolution of similar phenotypic features in similar environmental contexts has long been taken as evidence of adaptation. Nonetheless, recent conceptual and empirical developments in many fields have led to a proliferation of ideas about the relationship between convergence and adaptation. Despite criticism from some systematically minded biologists, I reaffirm that convergence in taxa occupying similar selective environments often is the result of natural selection. However, convergent evolution of a trait in a particular environment can occur for reasons other than selection on that trait in that environment, and species can respond to similar selective pressures by evolving nonconvergent adaptations. For these reasons, studies of convergence should be coupled with other methods-such as direct measurements of selection or investigations of the functional correlates of trait evolution-to test hypotheses of adaptation. The independent acquisition of similar phenotypes by the same genetic or developmental pathway has been suggested as evidence of constraints on adaptation, a view widely repeated as genomic studies have documented phenotypic convergence resulting from change in the same genes, sometimes even by the same mutation. Contrary to some claims, convergence by changes in the same genes is not necessarily evidence of constraint, but rather suggests hypotheses that can test the relative roles of constraint and selection in directing phenotypic evolution.
Losos, Jonathan BengReview2011/07/07 06:00Evolution. 2011 Jul;65(7):1827-40. doi: 10.1111/j.1558-5646.2011.01289.x. Epub 2011 Apr 7.