Natural selection does not have foresight; it does not anticipate the environments of the future. Drastic environmental changes may introduce obstacles that are insuperable to organisms that were previously thriving. In fact, species extinction is a common outcome of the evolutionary process. The species existing today represent the balance between the origin of new species and their eventual extinction. The available inventory of living species describes nearly 2 million species, although at least 10 million are estimated to exist. But we know that perhaps more than 99% of all species that have ever lived on Earth have become extinct.
Increased complexity is not a necessary consequence of natural selection, but it does emerge occasionally, when mutations that increase complexity are favored over mutations that do not. That complexity-increasing mutations do not necessarily accumulate over time is apparent in many evolutionary lineages. For example, the longest living organisms on Earth are the microscopic bacteria, which have existed continuously on our planet for ≈3.5 billion years. Yet, modern bacterial species appear to exhibit no greater complexity than their ancient ancestors. More complex organisms came about much later, without the elimination of their simpler relatives. Nevertheless, over the eons, multitudes of complex organisms have arisen on Earth. Some groups of complex organisms came into existence only recently (on the evolutionary scale). The primates appeared on Earth only 50 million years ago; our species, Homo sapiens, less than 200,000 years ago.
In evolution, there is no entity or person who is selecting adaptive combinations. These combinations select themselves because the organisms possessing them reproduce more effectively than those with less adaptive variations. Therefore, natural selection does not strive to produce predetermined kinds of organisms but only organisms that are adapted to their present environments. As pointed out, which characteristics will be selected depends on which variations happen to be present at a given time in a given place. This, in turn, depends on the random process of mutation as well as on the previous history of the organisms (that is, on the genetic makeup they have as a consequence of their previous evolution). Natural selection is an opportunistic process. The variables determining the direction in which natural selection will proceed are the environment, the preexisting constitution of the organisms, and the randomly arising mutations.
Thus, adaptation to a given habitat may occur in a variety of different ways. For example, many plants have adapted to a desert climate. Their fundamental adaptation is to the condition of dryness, which holds the danger of desiccation. During most of the year, and sometimes for several years in succession, there is no rain. Plants have adapted to the scarcity of water in different ways. Cacti have transformed their leaves into spines