Mechanisms in Evo-Devo

Living reference work entry


The concept of mechanism is central in evolutionary developmental biology (evo-devo). Researchers in this field seek to identify and characterize mechanisms that link individual development with evolutionary change. However, while the centrality of mechanisms for evo-devo is widely accepted, there is a lack of clarity about how mechanisms should be conceptualized in evo-devo to fulfill different explanatory interests and fit with methodological practices. This chapter begins by describing the different ways that philosophers of science understand the concept of mechanism as used by biologists. Next, I survey challenges to these philosophical views that arise when applied to developmental and evolutionary mechanisms, as well as to those mechanisms that link the two. The final section shows how some of these challenges can be addressed via complementary conceptions of mechanisms and mechanistic explanation, especially those that understand mechanisms by means of scales rather than parthood.


Developmental mechanism Evo-devo Evolutionary mechanism Levels of organization Parthood Scales 



I would like to thank Laura Nuño de la Rosa and Gerd B. Müller for the opportunity to participate in this project. I am grateful for comments received on earlier versions of this chapter by Laura Nuño de la Rosa and Alan C. Love. In addition, I gratefully acknowledge financial support from the German Research Foundation (DFG; Project No. BA 5808/1–1).


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Philosophy IRuhr University BochumBochumGermany

Section editors and affiliations

  • Alan C. Love
    • 1
  • Laura Nuño de la Rosa
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Philosophy, Minnesota Center for Philosophy of ScienceUniversity of MinnesotaMinneapolisUSA
  2. 2.IAS-Research Group, IAS-Research Center for Life, Mind, and SocietyUPV/EHU University of the Basque CountrySan SebastianSpain

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