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Abstract

Detailed examples of how hierarchical assemblages of modules change over time are few. We found broadly conserved phylogenetic patterns in the directions of development within the median fins of fishes. From these, we identify four modules involved in their positioning and patterning. The evolutionary sequence of their hierarchical assembly and secondary dissociation is described. The changes in these modules during the evolution of fishes appear to be produced through dissociation, duplication and divergence, and co-option. Although the relationship between identified median fin modules and underlying mechanisms is unclear, Hox addresses may be correlated. Comparing homologous gene expression and function in various fishes may test these predictions.

The earliest actinopterygians likely had dorsal and anal fins that were symmetrically positioned via a positioning module. The common patterning (differentiation) of skeletal elements within the dorsal and anal fins may have been set into motion by linkage to this positioning module. Frequent evolutionary changes in dorsal and anal fin position indicate a high level of dissociability of the positioning module from the patterning module. In contrast, the patterning of the dorsal and anal fins remains linked: In nearly all fishes, the endo- and exoskeletal elements of the two fins co-differentiate. In all fishes, the exoskeletal fin rays differentiate in the same directions as the endoskeletal supports, indicating complete developmental integration. In acanthopterygians, a new first dorsal fin module evolved via duplication and divergence. The median fins provide an example of how basic modularity is maintained over 400 million years of evolution. J. Exp. Zool. (Mol. Dev. Evol.) 294:77–90, 2002. © 2002 Wiley-Liss, Inc.