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Scapes - Exploring High Dimensional Fitness Landscapes

Exploring Landscapes of Possibility (about this project)

The adaptive landscape is a concept in evolutionary biology. Depending on who you ask, it's a metaphor, a model, a useful concept, or a misleading mess. I like to think of it in a really broad sense, as a mapping between a space of possibilities and the fitness of each possibility. More specifically, it's often thought of as a multidimensional space in which characteristics of some organism are laid out on the axes, with an additional axis for fitness, and a surface that tells you what the fitness of each combination of characteristics. The metaphor is between this surface and the surface of an actual landscape, where altitude would represent fitness. If all of this is sounding like gobbledygook, hopefully this site can help a bit. There are two ways to use the site - you can either read through the drivel I've written like a book, or you can poke around on your own. If you'd like to take the full ride, start with this Douglas-Hofstader-inspired dialogue about the adaptive landscape: TOPOSSIBILOGY.

And here's the rest:

A long-winded, super-broad, theoretical introduction to the adaptive landscape concept.

An equally long-winded (it even has video clips from interviews with professors!) history of the origin of the adaptive landscape concept - which is really more of an argument about what the concept is useful for. I'm also working on a couple follow-up blog posts about precise adaptive landscape models and their connection to the history of evolutionary biology, which I will post links to here.

This site originated with the idea of making interactive adaptive landscapes that the user could “walk” around, or use to simulate change. Here are the two examples I have coded up so far:

The (empirical) fitness landscape of 5 mutations to a beta-lactamase allele

The (theoretical) “tunably-rugged” NK landscape

Oh, and I’d like to thank some people who helped me with my research, let me interview them, or generally supported me on this: Ryan Calsbeek, Michael Dietrich, Dan Weinreich, and Artem Kaznatcheev. Thanks a ton for the support!


About Me


My name is Milo Johnson and I am currently a graduate student studying evolution in Michael Desai's lab at Harvard. I put most of this material together in 2014 and 2015. If you have any questions or comments about it, I'd love to hear them, my email is below!