Theory in Biosciences

, Volume 124, Issue 2, pp 121-143

First online:

Homology and ontogeny: pattern and process in comparative developmental biology

  • Gerhard ScholtzAffiliated withHumboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Institut für Biologie/Vergleichende Zoologie Email author 

Rent the article at a discount

Rent now

* Final gross prices may vary according to local VAT.

Get Access


In this article the interface between development and homology is discussed. Development is here interpreted as a sequence of evolutionarily independent stages. Any approach stressing the importance of specific developmental stages is rejected. A homology definition is favoured which includes similarity and complexity serves as a test for homology. Complexity is seen as the possibility of subdividing a character into evolutionarily independent corresponding substructures. Topology as a test for homology is critically discussed because corresponding positions are not necessarily indicative of homology. Complexity can be used twofold for homology assessments of development: either stages or processes of development are homologised. These two approaches must not be conflated. This distinction leads to the conclusion that there is no ontogenetic homology “criterion”.


Evolution Recapitulation Ontogenetic criterion Phylotypic stage Zootype