Distinguishing Drift and Selection Empirically: “The Great Snail Debate” of the 1950s

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Millstein, Roberta L.
preprint description
Biologists and philosophers have been extremely pessimistic about the possibility of demonstrating random drift in nature, particularly when it comes to distinguishing random drift from natural selection. However, examination of a historical case - Maxime Lamotte's study of natural populations of the land snail, Cepaea nemoralis in the 1950s - shows that while some pessimism is warranted, it has been overstated. Indeed, by describing a unique signature for drift and showing that this signature obtained in the populations under study, Lamotte was able to make a good case for a significant role for drift. It may be difficult to disentangle the causes of drift and selection acting in a population, but it is not (always) impossible.