Blackwell Publishing

Adaptive explanation - Are there explanations for adaptation other than natural selection?


The inheritance of acquired characters

Another alternative to natural selection is Lamarckian inheritance.

Lamarckian inheritance is a synonym for the idea of the inheritance of acquired characters. As an organism develops, it acquires many individual characters, due to its particular history of accidents, diseases and muscular exercises. Jean-Baptiste Lamarck gave his name to the idea that a species could be transformed if these individually acquired modifications were inherited by the individual's offspring, and further modifications were added through time.

For example, in his famous discussion of the giraffe's neck, he argued that ancestral giraffes had stretched to reach leaves higher up trees. This exertion caused their necks to grow slightly longer and their longer necks were inherited by their offspring, who thus started life with a propensity to grow even longer necks than their parents. After many generations of neck stretching (pictured opposite), the result was what we can now see. Lamarck described the process as being driven by the 'striving' of the giraffe.

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