Evolutionary morphology, innovation, and the synthesis of evolutionary and developmental biology

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115 Scopus citations


One foundational question in contemporary biology is how to 'rejoin' evolution and development. The emerging research program (evolutionary developmental biology or 'evodevo') requires a meshing of disciplines, concepts, and explanations that have been developed largely in independence over the past century. In the attempt to comprehend the present separation between evolution and development much attention has been paid to the split between genetics and embryology in the early part of the 20th century with its codification in the exclusion of embryology from the Modern Synthesis. This encourages a characterization of evolutionary developmental biology as the marriage of evolutionary theory and embryology via developmental genetics. But there remains a largely untold story about the significance of morphology and comparative anatomy (also minimized in the Modern Synthesis). Functional and evolutionary morphology are critical for understanding the development of a concept central to evolutionary developmental biology, evolutionary innovation. Highlighting the discipline of morphology and the concepts of innovation and novelty provides an alternative way of conceptualizing the 'evo' and the 'devo' to be synthesized.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)309-345
Number of pages37
JournalBiology and Philosophy
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2003
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
I would like to thank Ron Amundson, Ingo Brigandt, Graham Budd, Greg Davis, Paul Griffiths, Brian Hall, Jon Hodge, Jim Lennox, Lennart Olsson, Jason Robert, Sahotra Sarkar, Günter Wagner, and David Wake for helpful comments on earlier versions of this paper. Their help does not imply agreement with any or all of the arguments offered here. I am also grateful to the participants of the Pittsburgh/London Colloquium, September 2001, and the attendees of the Philosophy of Biology Graduate Student Conference at U.T. Austin, April 2002, for criticism and suggestions where earlier versions of this paper were presented. Financial support during the research and writing of this paper was provided in part by the Mustard Seed Foundation through the Harvey Fellows Program.


  • Comparative anatomy
  • Developmental genetics
  • Embryology
  • Evolutionary developmental biology
  • Innovation
  • Morphology
  • Novelty
  • Synthesis
  • Typology


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