On the Unique Perspective of Paleontology in the Study of Developmental Evolution and Biases

Biological Theory 8 (3):293-311 (2013)
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The growing interest and major advances of the last decades in evolutionary developmental biology (EvoDevo) have led to the recognition of the incompleteness of the Modern Synthesis of evolutionary theory. Here we discuss how paleontology makes significant contributions to integrate evolution and development. First, extinct organisms often inform us about developmental processes by showing a combination of features unrecorded in living species. We illustrate this point using the vertebrate fossil record and studies relating bone ossification to life history traits. Second, we discuss exceptionally preserved fossils that document rare ontogenetic sequences and illustrate this case with the patterns of heterochrony observed in Cambrian crustacean larvae preserved three-dimensionally. Third, most fossils potentially document the evolutionary patterns of allometry and modularity, as well as some of the (paleo)ecological factors that had influenced them. The temporal persistence of adaptive patterns in rodent evolution serves to address the importance of ecological constraints in evolution. Fourth, we discuss how the macroevolutionary patterns observed in the tetrapod limb, in the mammal molar proportions, and in the molluscan shell provide independent tests of the validity of morphogenetic models proposed on living species. Reciprocally, these macroevolutionary patterns often act as a source of inspiration to investigate the underlying rules of development, because, at the end, they are the patterns that the neo-Darwinian theory was unable to account for



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