Eric Davidson and deep time

Abstract

Eric Davidson had a deep and abiding interest in the role developmental mechanisms played in generating evolutionary patterns documented in deep time, from the origin of the euechinoids to the processes responsible for the morphological architectures of major animal clades. Although not an evolutionary biologist, Davidson’s interests long preceded the current excitement over comparative evolutionary developmental biology. Here I discuss three aspects at the intersection between his research and evolutionary patterns in deep time: First, understanding the mechanisms of body plan formation, particularly those associated with the early diversification of major metazoan clades. Second, a critique of early claims about ancestral metazoans based on the discoveries of highly conserved genes across bilaterian animals. Third, Davidson’s own involvement in paleontology through a collaborative study of the fossil embryos from the Ediacaran Doushantuo Formation in south China.

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