Reframing research on evolutionary novelty and co-option: Character identity mechanisms versus deep homology


A central topic in research at the intersection of development and evolution is the origin of novel traits. Despite progress on understanding how developmental mechanisms underlie patterns of diversity in the history of life, the problem of novelty continues to challenge researchers. Here we argue that research on evolutionary novelty and the closely associated phenomenon of co-option can be reframed fruitfully by: (1) specifying a conceptual model of mechanisms that underwrite character identity, (2) providing a richer and more empirically precise notion of co-option that goes beyond common appeals to “deep homology”, and (3) attending to the nature of experimental interventions that can determine whether and how the co-option of identity mechanisms can help to explain novel character origins. This reframing has the potential to channel future investigation to make substantive progress on the problem of evolutionary novelty. To illustrate this potential, we apply our reframing to two case studies: treehopper helmets and beetle horns.

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Volume 145
Pages 3-12
Available online
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