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In terms of practical application, an understanding of evolution has been instrumental to developments in numerous scientific and industrial fields, including agriculture, human and veterinary medicine, and the life sciences in general.
Discoveries in evolutionary biology have made a significant impact not just in the traditional branches of biology but also in other academic disciplines, including biological anthropology, and evolutionary psychology.
Natural selection, including sexual selection, is the only known cause of adaptation but not the only known cause of evolution.
Other, nonadaptive evolutionary processes include mutation, genetic drift and gene migration.
The fossil record includes a progression from early biogenic graphite, In the mid-19th century, Charles Darwin formulated the scientific theory of evolution by natural selection, published in his book On the Origin of Species (1859).
Evolution by natural selection is a process demonstrated by the observation that more offspring are produced than can possibly survive, along with three facts about populations: 1) traits vary among individuals with respect to morphology, physiology, and behaviour (phenotypic variation), 2) different traits confer different rates of survival and reproduction (differential fitness), and 3) traits can be passed from generation to generation (heritability of fitness).
These shared traits are more similar among species that share a more recent common ancestor, and can be used to reconstruct a biological "tree of life" based on evolutionary relationships (phylogenetics), using both existing species and fossils.
In the early 20th century the modern evolutionary synthesis integrated classical genetics with Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection through the discipline of population genetics.
The importance of natural selection as a cause of evolution was accepted into other branches of biology.
Thus, in successive generations members of a population are replaced by progeny of parents better adapted to survive and reproduce in the biophysical environment in which natural selection takes place.
This teleonomy is the quality whereby the process of natural selection creates and preserves traits that are seemingly fitted for the functional roles they perform.
In contrast to these materialistic views, Aristotle considered all natural things, not only living things, as being imperfect actualisations of different fixed natural possibilities, known as "forms," "ideas," or (in Latin translations) "species." This was part of his teleological understanding of nature in which all things have an intended role to play in a divine cosmic order.