The Causality Horizon and the Developmental Bases of Morphological Evolution

Abstract

With the advent of evolutionary developmental research, or EvoDevo, there is hope of discovering the roles that the genetic bases of development play in morphological evolution. Studies in EvoDevo span several levels of organismal organization. Low-level studies identify the ultimate genetic changes responsible for morphological variation and diversity. High-level studies of development focus on how genetic differences affect the dynamics of gene networks and epigenetic interactions to modify morphology. Whereas an increasing number of studies link independent acquisition of homoplastic or convergent morphologies to similar changes in the genomes, homoplasies are not always found to have identical low-level genetic underpinnings. This suggests that a combination of low- and high-level approaches may be useful in understanding the relationship between genetic and morphological variation. Therefore, as an empirical and conceptual framework, we propose the causality horizon to signify the lowest level that allows linking homoplastic morphologies to similar changes in the development. A change in a system below the causality horizon cannot be generalized. In more concrete terms, homoplastic morphologies cannot be reduced to the same change in gene regulation when that change occurs below the causality horizon; rather, a higher-level mechanism should be identified.

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Acknowledgments

We thank Jeffrey Schwartz for providing a forum to develop ideas presented in the article, and David Polly and Kate MacCord for critically reviewing the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Jukka Jernvall.

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Salazar-Ciudad, I., Jernvall, J. The Causality Horizon and the Developmental Bases of Morphological Evolution. Biol Theory 8, 286–292 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13752-013-0121-3

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Keywords

  • Causality horizon
  • EvoDevo
  • Genotype–Phenotype map
  • Patterning