Metamodels and phylogenetic replication: a systematic approach to the evolution of developmental pathways

Evolution. 2009 Nov;63(11):2771-89. doi: 10.1111/j.1558-5646.2009.00761.x. Epub 2009 Jul 22.


Molecular genetic analysis of phenotypic variation has revealed many examples of evolutionary change in the developmental pathways that control plant and animal morphology. A major challenge is to integrate the information from diverse organisms and traits to understand the general patterns of developmental evolution. This integration can be facilitated by evolutionary metamodels-traits that have undergone multiple independent changes in different species and whose development is controlled by well-studied regulatory pathways. The metamodel approach provides the comparative equivalent of experimental replication, allowing us to test whether the evolution of each developmental pathway follows a consistent pattern, and whether different pathways are predisposed to different modes of evolution by their intrinsic organization. A review of several metamodels suggests that the structure of developmental pathways may bias the genetic basis of phenotypic evolution, and highlights phylogenetic replication as a value-added approach that produces deeper insights into the mechanisms of evolution than single-species analyses.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Models, Theoretical*
  • Phylogeny*
  • Plants / genetics