Evolution of the morphological innovations of feathers


  • Richard O. Prum

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    1. Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and Peabody Museum of Natural History, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut 06520
    • Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Yale University, P.O. Box 208105, New Haven, Connecticut 06520
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Feathers are complex assemblages of multiple morphological innovations. Recent research on the development and evolution of feathers has produced new insights into the origin and diversification of the morphological innovations in feathers. In this article, I review and discuss the contribution of three different factors to the evolution of morphological innovations in feathers: feather tubularity, hierarchical morphological modularity, and the co-option molecular signaling modules. The developing feather germ is a tube of epidermis with a central dermal pulp. The tubular organization of the feather germ and follicle produces multiple axes over which morphological differentiation can be organized. Feather complexity is organized into a hierarchy of morphological modules. These morphological modules evolved through the innovative differentiation along multiple different morphological axes created by the tubular feather germ. Concurrently, many of the morphological innovations of feathers evolved through the evolutionary co-option of plesiomorphic molecular signaling modules. Gene co-option also reveals a role for contingency in the evolution of hierarchical morphological innovations. J. Exp. Zool. (Mol. Dev. Evol.) 304B, 2005. © 2005 Wiley-Liss, Inc.