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Abstract

Serial homology is widespread in organismal design, but the origin and individuation of these repeated structures appears to differ with the different types of serial homologues, and remains an intriguing and exciting topic of research. Here I focus on the evolution of the serially repeated eyespots that decorate the margin of the wings of nymphalid butterflies. In this system, unresolved questions relate to the evolutionary steps that lead to the appearance of these serial homologues and how their separate identities evolved. I present and discuss two alternative hypotheses. The first proposes that eyespots first appeared as a row of undifferentiated repeated modules, one per wing compartment, that later become individuated. This individuation allowed eyespots to appear and disappear from specific wing compartments and also allowed eyespots to acquire different morphologies. The second hypothesis proposes that eyespots first appeared as individuated single units, or groups of units, that over evolutionary time were co-opted into new compartments on the wing. I discuss the merits of each of these alternate hypotheses by finding analogies to other systems and propose research avenues for addressing these issues in the future. BioEssays 30:358–366, 2008. © 2008 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.