Null hypotheses for developmental evolution

Development. 2020 Apr 27;147(8):dev178004. doi: 10.1242/dev.178004.


How much evolutionary change in development do we expect? In this Spotlight, we argue that, as developmental biologists, we are in a prime position to contribute to the definition of a null hypothesis for developmental evolution: in other words, a hypothesis for how much developmental evolution we expect to observe over time. Today, we have access to an unprecedented array of developmental data from across the tree of life. Using these data, we can now consider development in the light of evolution, and vice versa, more deeply than ever before. As we do this, we may need to re-examine previous assumptions that appeared to serve us well when data points were fewer. Specifically, we think it is important to challenge assumptions that change is very rare for all developmental traits, especially if this assumption is used to sustain an erroneous view that evolution always optimizes adaptive traits toward increasing complexity.

Keywords: Ancestral; Convergence; Derived; Homology; Null hypothesis; Phylogenetic comparative methods.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental
  • Growth and Development*
  • Humans
  • Insecta / genetics
  • Models, Biological*