Losing Complexity: The Role of Simplification in Macroevolution

Trends Ecol Evol. 2016 Aug;31(8):608-621. doi: 10.1016/j.tree.2016.04.004. Epub 2016 May 19.


Macroevolutionary patterns can be produced by combinations of diverse and even oppositional dynamics. A growing body of data indicates that secondary simplifications of molecular and cellular structures are common. Some major diversifications in eukaryotes have occurred because of loss and minimalisation; numerous episodes in prokaryote evolution have likewise been driven by the reduction of structure. After examining a range of examples of secondary simplification and its consequences across the tree of life, we address how macroevolutionary explanations might incorporate simplification as well as complexification, and adaptive as well as nonadaptive dynamics.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Humans