Evolutionary morphology and Evo-devo: Hierarchy and novelty

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Although the role of morphology in evolutionary theory remains a subject of debate, assessing the contributions of morphological investigation to evolutionary developmental biology (Evo-devo) is a more circumscribed issue of direct relevance to ongoing research. Historical studies of morphologically oriented researchers and the formation of the Modern Synthesis in the Anglo-American context identify a recurring theme: the synthetic theory of evolution did not capture multiple levels of biological organization. When this feature is incorporated into a philosophical framework for explaining the origin of evolutionary innovations and novelties (a core domain of inquiry in Evo-devo) two specific roles for morphology can be described: (1) the conceptualization and operational identification of the targets of explanation; and (2) the elucidation of causal interactions at higher levels of organization during ontogeny and through evolutionary time. These roles are critical components of any adequate explanation of innovation and novelty though not exhaustive of the parts played by morphology in evolutionary investigation. They also invite reflection on what counts as an evolutionary cause in contemporary evolutionary biology.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)317-333
Number of pages17
JournalTheory in Biosciences
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - Mar 1 2006
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

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  • Causation
  • Development
  • Evolutionary theory
  • Innovation
  • Modern Synthesis


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