Methods and Practices in Paleo-Evo-Devo

Living reference work entry


Paleo-evo-devo is the discipline studying the developmental biology of fossil organisms and its evolutionary implications. In adopting a paleo-evo-devo approach, fossils have to be understood as once-living organisms, and the developmental patterns of extant organisms have to be comparatively investigated. For some types of fossils, it is comparably easy to investigate ontogeny, as they preserve earlier portions of the process throughout their entire life, for example as growth lines, or as they have been fossilized while bearing offspring inside their bodies. Yet, in most cases the ontogeny of fossil organisms (and also of some extant ones) has to be reconstructed based on plausibility. Major aspects for this approach are increasing differentiation or number of structures as well as continuity in development. Despite the difficulties in reconstructing the ontogenies of fossil organisms, studying fossilized development can provide important insights into the evolution of developmental patterns not available only from the study of extant organisms. Also the workflow in the practical work in paleo-evo-devo is shortly outlined.


Fossilized development Deep time Evolutionary reconstruction Heterochrony Character polarization 



We would like to thank curators and collection managers from different museums providing specimens (see figure captions). Furthermore, we are grateful to Roger Frattigiani, Laichingen, for providing the crab megalopa from Solnhofen limestones. JTH was supported by the German Research Foundation (DFG HA 6300/3-1); CH was supported by the LMU through a Bavarian Equal Opportunities Sponsorship (BGF). Both authors would like to thank J.M. Starck, Munich, for his support.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department Biology II, Functional Morphology GroupLMU MunichPlanegg-MartinsriedGermany

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