Concept of Burden in Evo-Devo

  • Diego Rasskin-Gutman
  • Borja Esteve-Altava
Living reference work entry


The concept of burden was developed around the 1970s by Austrian zoologist Rupert Riedl, based on morphological insights rooted in Karl Ernst von Baer’s embryological tradition. Burden’s main tenet is that as a morphological character evolves, it develops more relationships with other characters, becoming more and more interconnected. Through this process, the morphological character acquires more biological “responsibilities” within the organism. Two main consequences of the burden hypothesis are that (1) a character’s evolvability will be limited by these responsibilities and (2) a set of heavily burdened characters could be considered as part of the body plan of a taxonomic group. The concept of burden is intimately related to that of developmental constraint, and as such, it is central to evo-devo.


Morphology Philosophy of biology Rupert Riedl Developmental constraints 



DRG funded by MINECO-FEDER BFU2015-70927-R. BE-A is funded by a European Union’s Horizon 2020 Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant No. 654155.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Theoretical Biology Research Group, Cavanilles Institute of Biodiversity and Evolutionary BiologyUniversity of ValenciaValenciaSpain
  2. 2.Structure and Motion Lab, Department of Comparative Biomedical SciencesThe Royal Veterinary CollegeHatfieldUK

Section editors and affiliations

  • Gerd B. Müller
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.The KLI InstituteKlosterneuburgAustria
  2. 2.University of ViennaViennaAustria

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