Comprehending the origin of marine invertebrate larvae remains a key domain of research for evolutionary biologists, including the repeated origin of direct developmental modes in echinoids. In order to address the latter question, we surveyed existing evidence on relationships of homology between the ectoderm territories of two closely related sea urchin species in the genus Heliocidaris that differ in their developmental mode. Additionally, we explored a recently articulated idea about homology called 'organizational homology' (Müller 2003. In: Müller GB, Newman SA, editors. Origination of organismal form: beyond the gene in developmental and evolutionary biology. Cambridge, MA: A Bradford Book, The MIT Press. p 51-69. ) in the context of this specific empirical case study. Applying the perspective of organizational homology to our experimental system of congeneric echinoids has led us to a new hypothesis concerning the ectoderm evolution in these species. The extravestibular ectoderm of the direct developer Heliocidaris erythrogramma is a novel developmental territory that arose as a fusion of the oral and aboral ectoderm territories found in indirect developing echinoids such as Heliocidaris tuberculata. This hypothesis instantiates a theoretical principle concerning the origin of developmental modules, 'integration', which has been neglected because the opposite theoretical principle, 'parcellation', is more readily observable in events such as gene duplication and divergence (Wagner 1996. Am Zool 36:36-43).
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