Gavin de Beer (1899–1972)

  • Yawen Zou
Living reference work entry

Later version available View entry history


Gavin de Beer (1899–1972) was an evolutionary embryologist considered by many as a forerunner of modern evolutionary developmental biology (evo-devo). This entry discusses de Beer’s works with a special focus on his contributions to evo-devo. De Beer was trained in zoology and later became interested in comparative and evolutionary embryology. De Beer joined the attack on Ernst Haeckel’s biogenetic law and argued that ontogeny did not recapitulate phylogeny, but ontogeny caused phylogeny instead. Influenced by the advancements of the Modern Synthesis and the rise of genetics, de Beer advocated for the integration of embryology, heredity, and evolution and emphasized on the importance of embryology in evolutionary theory in many of his writings. Although de Beer failed to make a significant impact on the Modern Synthesis, his work on heterochrony influenced modern evo-devo biologists such as Stephen Jay Gould, and his views on homology are still revisited today.


Gavin de Beer Evo-devo Biogenetic law Heterochrony Homology 



I am grateful to Manfred Laubichler and Federica Colonna for their encouragement and comments on early drafts of this essay. Comments by the editors Laura Nuño de la Rosa and Daniel J. Nicholson helped to improve this article significantly.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Center for Biology and SocietyArizona State UniversityTempeUSA
  2. 2.The Chinese University of Hong KongShenzhenP. R. China

Section editors and affiliations

  • Daniel Nicholson
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Sociology, Philosophy and AnthropologyUniversity of ExeterExeterUK

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