Paleontological Journal

, Volume 46, Issue 8, pp 833–864

Ontogenetic systematics: The synthesis of taxonomy, phylogenetics, and evolutionary developmental biology


DOI: 10.1134/S0031030112080072

Cite this article as:
Martynov, A.V. Paleontol. J. (2012) 46: 833. doi:10.1134/S0031030112080072


The main purpose of the present review is to draw attention to growing problems in the modern systematics and phylogenetics which are presently underestimated by the professional community. The dramatic reduction of the importance of ontogeny and morphology in phylogenetic studies of the second part of the 20th century is considered among the major factors of the modern taxonomic and evolutionary paradigm. The deep contradiction of modern approaches, which either merely consider systematics and phylogeny as genealogy or even in a neotypolgical manner irrespective of the evolutionary idea, is demonstrated. Thus, despite the widespread opinion that the evolutionary theory is the major basis for taxonomy, the processes, which in fact caused the origin and formation of the systematic hierarchy are often considered as redundant for the procedure of classification. In this respect, the classical, but well forgotten statement that evolution is a modification of ontogeny is specially highlighted. Tight relationships between evolution, ontogeny, systematics, and phylogenetics are prima facie obvious, but also presently underestimated, although the field of the evo-devo is continuously growing. Paradoxically, even despite the outburst of various molecular ontogenetic approaches, the commonly accepted evolutionary paradigm still lacks a general theory for changes in the shape of organisms. As a step towards the development of such a theory, a synthesis (or more exactly, resynthesis) of still largely independently developing major biological fields, i.e., ontogenetic and evolutionary studies, on the one hand, and traditional taxonomy, on the other hand, a new concept of ontogenetic systematics is proposed. The new concept is intended for integration of supposedly “immobile” traditional taxonomy with the dynamics, but predominantly considered as hypothetical, evolutionary field based on the process of ontogeny, which, in contrast to the evolution itself, can be observed in the real time. Therefore, it is concluded that, for instance, the evolution of the main group of living organisms Metazoa, is primarily the evolution of a very limited number of ontogenetic cycles that were formed as early as the Early Cambrian. A significant underestimation of cyclic properties of ontogeny in the evolution and systematics is shown. Using two model groups, echinoderms of the class Ophiuroidea and dorid nudibranch mollusks (Gastropoda: Doridacea), practical importance of the integrative approach developed here is demonstrated. The “disruption” of the ancestral ontogenetic cycle and further formation of a new descendant cycle (which implies some continuity of ancestral and descendant characters) is considered to be a major evolutionary pattern. The model proposed implies either progressive (addition of stages and characters) or regressive (reduction of already existing stages and structures) modification of ancestral taxon, the diagnosis of which corresponds to the model of its ontogenetic cycle. In the extreme cases of disruption of the ancestral ontogenetic cycle, adult characters of descendants are substituted by juvenile ancestral features, demonstrating paedomorphoses in the narrow sense. Within the framework of the approach proposed, the evolutionary and ontogenetic models of ancestral ontogenetic cycles of brittle stars and dorid nudibranchs are developed and discussed. Based on the original material of the extinct Paleozoic ophiuroid group Oegophiurida, the origin of key evolutionary novelties is discussed. A major conclusion of the present review is the high necessity of integration of new molecular data with already well-established taxonomic hierarchy and ontogenetic information as a basis for the development of the general theory of transformations of organisms, i.e., the theory of evolution in its true sense.


Ontogeny evolution phylogenetics taxonomy paleontology ontogenetic systematics synthesis heterochrony paedomorphosis mollusks echinoderms Ophiuroidea Opisthobranchia Nudibranchia 

Copyright information

© Pleiades Publishing, Ltd. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Zoological MuseumMoscow State UniversityMoscowRussia

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