Biological Theory

, Volume 9, Issue 2, pp 135–148 | Cite as

Identifying Behavioral Novelty

  • Rachael L. Brown
Long Article


Although there is no in-principle impediment to an EvoDevo of behavior, such an endeavor is not as straightforward as one might think; many of the key terms and concepts used in EvoDevo are tailored to suit its traditional focus on morphology, and are consequently difficult to apply to behavior. In this light, the application of the EvoDevo conceptual toolkit to the behavioral domain requires the establishment of a set of tractable concepts that are readily applicable to behavioral characters. Here, I begin the type of theoretical work that needs to be undertaken in order to achieve this, focusing in particular on the key concept of “novelty.” Building on existing criteria used for the identification of behavioral homology from behavioral ecology, I develop a set of operational criteria for identifying novelty in the behavioral domain. These criteria provide a conceptual foundation for the study of novelty in behavioral traits.


Behavior EvoDevo Homology Non-homology Novelty 



Thank you to Brett Calcott, Werner Callebaut, Gerd Müller, and Kim Sterelny for their generous and insightful suggestions on this manuscript. Thank you also to the Sydney-ANU Philosophy Group and an anonymous examiner for their comments on earlier incarnations of this work. Financial support for this research was provided by the Australian National University and the Rotman Institute for Philosophy at Western University.


  1. Abouheif E (1997) Developmental genetics and homology: a hierarchical approach. Trends Ecol Evol 12:405–408Google Scholar
  2. Alberch P (1982) Developmental constraints in evolutionary processes. Evol Dev 3:313–326Google Scholar
  3. Amundson R (2005) The changing role of the embryo in evolutionary thought: the roots of evo-devo. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  4. Arthur W (2000) The origin of animal body plans: a study in evolutionary developmental biology. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  5. Atz JW (1970) The application of the idea of homology to behavior. In: Aronson LR, Tobach E, Lehrman DS, Rosenblatt JS (eds) Development and the evolution of behavior. Essays in memory of T. C. Schneirla. Freeman, San Francisco, pp 53–74Google Scholar
  6. Avital E, Jablonka E (2000) Animal traditions: behavioural inheritance in evolution. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  7. Baerends GP (1958) Comparative methods and the concept of homology in the study of behavior. Arch Neerland Zool Suppl 13:401–417Google Scholar
  8. Baldwin JM (1896) A new factor in evolution. Am Nat 30(441–51):536–553Google Scholar
  9. Barlow GW (1968) Ethological units of behavior. In: Ingle D (ed) The central nervous system and fish behavior. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, pp 217–237Google Scholar
  10. Beer CG (1984) Homology, analogy, and ethology. Hum Dev 27:287–308Google Scholar
  11. Bertossa RC (2011) Morphology and behaviour: functional links in development and evolution. Phil Trans R Soc Lond B 366:2056–2068Google Scholar
  12. Bolker JA, Raff RA (1996) Developmental genetics and traditional homology. BioEssays 18:489–494Google Scholar
  13. Brigandt I (2003) Homology in comparative, molecular, and evolutionary developmental biology: the radiation of a concept. J Exp Zool B (Mol Dev Evol) 299:9–17Google Scholar
  14. Brigandt I (2007) Typology now: homology and developmental constraints explain evolvability. Biol Philos 22:709–725Google Scholar
  15. Brigandt I, Love AC (2010) Evolutionary novelty and the Evo-devo synthesis: field notes. Evol Biol 37:7Google Scholar
  16. Brigandt I, Love AC (2012) Conceptualizing evolutionary novelty: moving beyond definitional debates. J Exp Zool B (Mol Dev Evol) 318:417–427Google Scholar
  17. Brown RL (2014) Rethinking behavioral evolution. In: Barker G, Desjardins E, Pearce T (eds) Entangled life: organism and environment in the biological and social sciences. Springer, Berlin, pp 237–260Google Scholar
  18. Brush AH (1996) On the origin of feathers. J Evol Biol 9:131–142Google Scholar
  19. Burian RM (1988) Challenges to the evolutionary synthesis. Evol Biol 23:247–269Google Scholar
  20. Calcott B (2009) Lineage explanations: explaining how biological mechanisms change. Br J Philos Sci 60:51–78Google Scholar
  21. Capdevila J, Izpisúa BJC (2000) Perspectives on the evolutionary origin of tetrapod limbs. J Exp Zool 288:287–303Google Scholar
  22. Dall SRX, Houston AI, McNamara JM (2004) The behavioural ecology of personality: consistent individual differences from an adaptive perspective. Ecol Lett 7:734–739Google Scholar
  23. Darwin C (1958) The origin of species. Signet Classics, New York. Orig. 1859Google Scholar
  24. Dingemanse NJ, Wolf M (2010) Recent models for adaptive personality differences: a review. Phil Trans R Soc Lond B 365:3947–3958Google Scholar
  25. Dobzhansky T (1957) On methods of evolutionary biology and anthropology. Am Sci 45:381–392Google Scholar
  26. Dobzhansky T (1971) Genetics of the evolutionary process. Columbia University Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  27. Drummond H (1981) The nature and description of behavior patterns. In: Bateson PPG, Klopfer FH (eds) Perspectives in ethology, vol 4. Plenum Press, New York, pp 1–33Google Scholar
  28. Gavrilets S (2004) Fitness landscapes and the origin of species. Princeton University Press, PrincetonGoogle Scholar
  29. Gilbert SF, Loredo GA, Brukman A, Burke AC (2001) Morphogenesis of the turtle shell: the development of a novel structure in tetrapod evolution. Evol Dev 3:47–58Google Scholar
  30. Goldschmidt R (1940) The material basis of evolution. Yale University Press, New HavenGoogle Scholar
  31. Griffiths PE (1997) What emotions really are: the problem of psychological categories. University of Chicago Press, ChicagoGoogle Scholar
  32. Griffiths PE (2007) The phenomena of homology. Biol Philos 22:643–658Google Scholar
  33. Hall BK (ed) (1994) Homology: the hierarchical basis of comparative biology. Academic Press, San DiegoGoogle Scholar
  34. Hall BK (1999) Evolutionary developmental biology, 2nd edn. Kluwer, DordrechtGoogle Scholar
  35. Hall BK (2005) Consideration of the neural crest and its skeletal derivatives in the context of novelty/innovation. J Exp Zool B (Mol Dev Evol) 304:548–557Google Scholar
  36. Hall BK (2013) Homology, homoplasy, novelty, and behavior. Dev Psychobiol 55:4–12Google Scholar
  37. Hall BK, Kerney R (2012) Levels of biological organization and the origins of novelty. J Exp Zool B (Mol Dev Evol) 318:428–437Google Scholar
  38. Hallgrímsson B, Jamniczky HA, Young NM, Rolian C, Schmidt-Ott U, Marcucio RS (2012) The generation of variation and the developmental bias for evolutionary novelty. J Exp Zool B (Mol Dev Evol) 318:501–517Google Scholar
  39. Hodos W (1976) The concept of homology and the evolution of behavior. In: Masterton RB, Hodos W, Jerison H (eds) Evolution, brain, and behavior: persistent problems. Erlbaum, Hillsdale, pp 152–167Google Scholar
  40. Hoekstra HE, Coyne JA (2007) The locus of evolution: Evo Devo and the genetics of adaptation. Evolution 61:995–1016Google Scholar
  41. Huxley JS (2010) Evolution: the modern synthesis. MIT Press, Cambridge, MA. Orig. 1942Google Scholar
  42. Jablonka E, Lamb MJ (2006) Evolution in four dimensions: genetic, epigenetic, behavioral, and symbolic variation in the history of life. MIT Press, Cambridge, MAGoogle Scholar
  43. Johnston CE, Page LM (1992) The evolution of complex reproductive strategies in North American minnows (Cyprinidae). In: Mayden RL (ed) Systematics, historical ecology, and North American freshwater fishes. Stanford University Press, Stanford, pp 600–621Google Scholar
  44. Kaplan J (2008) The end of the adaptive landscape metaphor? Biol Philos 23:625–638Google Scholar
  45. Kennedy M, Spencer HG, Gray RD (1996) Hop, step and gape: do social displays of the Pelecaniformes reflect phylogeny? Anim Behav 51:273–291Google Scholar
  46. Kirschner MW, Gerhart JC (2006) The plausibility of life: resolving Darwin’s dilemma. Yale University Press, New HavenGoogle Scholar
  47. Lachlan RF, Servedio MR (2004) Song learning accelerates allopatric speciation. Evolution 58:2049–2063Google Scholar
  48. Laland KN, Galef BG (2009) The question of animal culture. Harvard University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  49. Lauder GV (1986) Homology, analogy, and the evolution of behavior. In: Nitecki MH, Kitchell JA (eds) Evolution of animal behavior. Oxford University Press, New York, pp 9–40Google Scholar
  50. Lauder GV (1994) Homology, form, and function. In: Hall BK (ed) Homology: the hierarchical basis of comparative biology. Academic Press, New York, pp 151–196Google Scholar
  51. Lefebvre L, Bouchard J (2003) Social learning about food in birds. In: Fragaszy DM, Perry S (eds) The biology of traditions: models and evidence. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 94–126Google Scholar
  52. Lloyd Morgan C (1896) On modification and variation. Science 4:733–740Google Scholar
  53. Lorenz K (1974) Analogy as a source of knowledge. Science 185:229–234Google Scholar
  54. Lynch M (2007a) The frailty of adaptive hypotheses for the origins of organismal complexity. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 104(Suppl 1):8597–8604Google Scholar
  55. Lynch M (2007b) The evolution of genetic networks by non-adaptive processes. Nat Rev Gen 8:803–813Google Scholar
  56. Martin P, Bateson P (2007) Measuring behaviour: an introductory guide. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  57. Maynard Smith J, Burian R, Kauffman S, Alberch P, Campbell J, Goodwin B, Lande R, Raup D, Wolpert L (1985) Developmental constraints and evolution: a perspective from the mountain lake conference on development and evolution. Quart Rev Biol 60:265–287Google Scholar
  58. Mayr E (1963) Animal species and evolution. Harvard University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  59. Mayr E, Provine WB (1981) The Evolutionary Synthesis. Bull Am Acad Arts Sci 34:17–32Google Scholar
  60. Mayr E, Provine WB (1998) The evolutionary synthesis: perspectives on the unification of biology. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MAGoogle Scholar
  61. McLennan DA, Brooks DR, McPhail JD (1988) The benefits of communication between comparative ethology and phylogenetic systematics: a case study using gasterosteid fishes. Can J Zool 66:2177–2190Google Scholar
  62. Moczek AP (2008) On the origins of novelty in development and evolution. BioEssays 30:432–447Google Scholar
  63. Müller GB (1990) Developmental mechanisms at the origin of morphological novelty: a side-effect hypothesis. In: Nitecki MH (ed) Evolutionary innovations. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, pp 99–130Google Scholar
  64. Müller GB (2007) Evo–devo: extending the evolutionary synthesis. Nat Rev Genet 8:943–949Google Scholar
  65. Müller GB (2008) Evo-devo as a discipline. In: Minelli A, Fusco G (eds) Evolving pathways: key themes in evolutionary developmental biology. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 3–29Google Scholar
  66. Müller GB (2010) Epigenetic innovation. In: Pigliucci M, Müller GB (eds) Evolution: the extended synthesis. MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, pp 307–332Google Scholar
  67. Müller GB, Newman SA (2005) The innovation triad: an EvoDevo agenda. J Exp Zool B (Mol Dev Evol) 304:487–503Google Scholar
  68. Muller GB, Wagner GP (2003) Innovation. In: Hall BK, Olson WM (eds) Keywords and concepts in evolutionary developmental biology. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, pp 218–227Google Scholar
  69. Müller GB, Wagner GP (1991) Novelty in evolution: restructuring the concept. Annu Rev Ecol Syst 22:229–256Google Scholar
  70. Osborn HF (1896) Ontogenetic and phylogenetic variation. Science 4:786–789Google Scholar
  71. Owen R (1843) Lectures on the comparative anatomy and physiology of the vertebrate animals. Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans, LondonGoogle Scholar
  72. Pigliucci M (2008) What, if anything, is an evolutionary novelty? Philos Sci 75:887–898Google Scholar
  73. Pigliucci M, Kaplan JM (2006) Making sense of evolution: the conceptual foundations of evolutionary biology. University of Chicago Press, ChicagoGoogle Scholar
  74. Prum RO (1999) Development and evolutionary origin of feathers. J Exp Zool 285:291–306Google Scholar
  75. Prum RO, Brush AH (2002) The evolutionary origin and diversification of feathers. Quart Rev Biol 77:261–295Google Scholar
  76. Ramsey G, Bastian ML, van Schaik C (2007) Animal innovation defined and operationalized. Behav Brain Sci 30:393–407Google Scholar
  77. Reader SM, Laland KN (2003) Animal innovation: an introduction. In: Reader SM, Laland KN (eds) Animal innovation. Oxford University Press, New York, pp 3–38Google Scholar
  78. Réale D, Dingemanse NJ, Kazem AJN, Wright J (2010) Evolutionary and ecological approaches to the study of personality. Phil Trans R Soc Lond B 365:3937–3946Google Scholar
  79. Remane A (1952) Die Grundlagen des natürlichen Systems, der vergleichenden Anatomie und der Phylogenetik. Otto Koeltz, KönigssteinGoogle Scholar
  80. Rendall D, Di Fiore A (2007) Homoplasy, homology, and the perceived special status of behavior in evolution. J Hum Evol 52:504–521Google Scholar
  81. Rieppel O (2001) Turtles as hopeful monsters. BioEssays 23:987–991Google Scholar
  82. Rutishauser R, Moline P (2005) Evo-devo and the search for homology (“sameness”) in biological systems. Theory Biosci 124:213–241Google Scholar
  83. Scharff C, Petri J (2011) Evo-devo, deep homology and FoxP2: implications for the evolution of speech and language. Phil Trans R Soc Lond B 366:2124–2140Google Scholar
  84. Schneirla TC (1957) The concept of development in comparative psychology. In: Harris DB (ed) The concept of development. Jones Press, Minneapolis, pp 78–108Google Scholar
  85. Scholes E (2008a) Structure and composition of the courtship phenotype in the bird of paradise Parotia lawesii (Aves: Paradisaeidae). Zoology 111:260–278Google Scholar
  86. Scholes E (2008b) Evolution of the courtship phenotype in the bird of paradise genus Parotia (Aves: Paradisaeidae): homology, phylogeny, and modularity. Biol J Linn Soc 94:491–504Google Scholar
  87. Sherry DF, Galef BG (1984) Cultural transmission without imitation: milk bottle opening by birds. Anim Behav 32:937–938Google Scholar
  88. Sherry DF, Galef BG (1990) Social learning without imitation: more about milk bottle opening by birds. Anim Behav 40:987–989Google Scholar
  89. Simpson GG (1953) The Baldwin effect. Evolution 19:110–117Google Scholar
  90. Slater PJB, Lachlan RF (2003) Is innovation in bird song adaptive? In: Reader SM, Laland KN (eds) Animal innovation. Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp 117–135Google Scholar
  91. Spalding DA (1873) Instinct with original observations on young animals. Macmillan’s Mag 27:282–293Google Scholar
  92. Stamps J, Groothuis TGG (2010) The development of animal personality: relevance, concepts and perspectives. Biol Rev 85:301–325Google Scholar
  93. Sterelny K, Griffiths PE (1999) Sex and death: an introduction to philosophy of biology. University Of Chicago Press, ChicagoGoogle Scholar
  94. Striedter GF, Northcutt RG (1991) Biological hierarchies and the concept of homology. Brain Behav Evol 38:177–189Google Scholar
  95. Tinbergen N (1959) Comparative studies of the behaviour of gulls (Laridae): a progress report. Behaviour 15:1–70Google Scholar
  96. Van Tets GF (1965) A comparative study of some social communication patterns in the Pelecaniformes. Ornithol Monogr No 2:1–88Google Scholar
  97. Waddington CH (1953a) Genetic assimilation of an acquired character. Evolution 7:118–126Google Scholar
  98. Waddington CH (1953b) The ‘Baldwin effect’, ‘genetic accommodation’ and ‘homeostasis.’ Evolution 7:386–387Google Scholar
  99. Wagner A (2005) Robustness, evolvability, and neutrality. FEBS Lett 579:1772–1778Google Scholar
  100. Wagner A (2012) The role of randomness in Darwinian evolution. Philos Sci 79:95–119Google Scholar
  101. Wagner GP, Larsson HCE (2006) Fins and limbs in the study of evolutionary novelties. In: Hall BK (ed) Fins into limbs: evolution, development, and transformation. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, pp 49–61Google Scholar
  102. Wagner GP, Stadler PF (2003) Quasi-independence, homology and the unity of type: a topological theory of characters. J Theor Biol 220:505–527Google Scholar
  103. Wenzel JW (1992) Behavioral homology and phylogeny. Annu Rev Ecol Syst 23:361–381Google Scholar
  104. West-Eberhard MJ (2003) Developmental plasticity and evolution. Oxford University Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  105. Whiten A, Goodall J, McGrew WC et al (1999) Cultures in chimpanzees. Nature 399:682–685Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Konrad Lorenz Institute for Evolution and Cognition Research 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Rotman Institute of Philosophy, Department of PhilosophyWestern UniversityLondonCanada

Personalised recommendations