Can you please give a list of classical (textbook) examples of local adaptations?

How to answer

Examples don't necessarily need to include what evidence supports this specific example of local adaptation. A simple description of the local adaptation (e.g. coat colour changes from black on dark soil to white on light soil) and an brief explanation of the reason (e.g. because being nicely camouflaged prevents from predation from hawks) is enough.

I think a list of 10 or more such examples would be great.

Definition of local adaptation

Note that I define here local adaptation as differentially adapted subpopulation of a single species (with existing gene flow between subpopulations especially for sexually reproducing species).

Justification for the question

I found surprisingly complicated to find such list online. I think it could be a valuable post for many.


Examples of local adaptation (that you are free to add in your answer with a description) include beach mice camouflage, altitude adaptation in tibetans and peppered-moth camouflage.

  • $\begingroup$ Would you consider adaptation to be reversible i.e. just phenotypic adaptation to a condition. IMO, the term -- adaptation, also has multiple interpretations. $\endgroup$
    May 25, 2016 at 6:35

1 Answer 1


Adaptation is a change in a trait as a response to selection. As you ask for local adaptation I assume you want examples where sub-populations have either come under different selection and adapted differently, or cases where sub-populations have come under similar selection but not all have had the necessary genetic variation to evolve, i.e. selection has caused differentiation between sub-populations. Local adaptation can lead to varying degrees of divergence, so some for some examples it may be worth exploring speciation events. Here's some examples:

Galapagos Tortoises

There are two general shapes to the shell of tortoises on the Galapagos Islands. On islands with little low-lying vegetation the tortoises seem to have evolved long necks & limbs and different shell shapes which allow them to reach up more easily.

"The shell distortion and elongation of the limbs and neck in saddlebacks is probably an evolutionary compromise between the need for a small body size in dry conditions and a high vertical reach for dominance displays."

Silent Crickets

Marlene Zuk has some very famous work on crickets that evolved to be silent on a Hawaiian island where parasitic flies were using the call as a targeting method. It's a great example of rapid adaptation occurring under observation in the wild. During the 1990's the population of crickets was in decline as a result of parasitism. At some point a mutation arose where the crickets no longer produced song, and this allele spread rapidly and cricket numbers bounced back strongly.

Other possible examples. Some of these are not "classical examples" but serve as interesting examples nonetheless.

  • Peppered moth colouration in response to the industrial revolution
  • Sickle cell anaemia and Malaria
  • Artificial selection in crops, livestock, and domesticated animals
  • Darwin's Finches
  • Antibiotic resistance in diseases; resitance to pesticides and herbicides; resistance to diseases unique to/more prevelant in sub-populations
  • Seasonal and continuous breeding by species present in both temperate and tropical climates
  • The Stephens Island Wren adapted to life without predators, and then failed to adapt to life with predators
  • Barn owl colouration across Europe
  • Predator-prey co-evolutionary dynamics as demonstrated by Guppies in Trinidad and Tobago
  • Drosophila melanogaster and adaptation to starch and maltose based foods
  • Adaptation to different salinity across gradients in marine organisms

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