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Abstract

This article introduces a special issue on evolutionary innovation and morphological novelty, two interrelated themes that have received a remarkable increase of attention over the past few years. We begin with a discussion of the question of whether innovation and novelty represent distinct evolutionary problems that require a distinct conceptualization. We argue that the mechanisms of innovation and their phenotypic results—novelty—can only be properly addressed if they are distinguished from the standard evolutionary themes of variation and adaptation, and we present arguments for making such a distinction. We propose that origination, the first formation of biological structures, is another distinct problem of morphological evolution, and that together with innovation and novelty it constitutes a conceptual complex we call the innovation triad. We define a problem agenda of the triad, which separates the analysis of the initiating conditions from the mechanistic realization of innovation, and we discuss the theoretical problems that arise from treating innovation as distinct from variation. Further, we categorize the empirical approaches that address themes of the innovation triad in recognizing four major strands of research: the morphology and systematics program, the gene regulation program, the epigenetic program, and the theoretical biology program. We provide examples of each program, giving priority to contributions in the present issue. In conclusion, we observe that the innovation triad is one of the defining topics of EvoDevo research and may represent its most pertinent contribution to evolutionary theory. We point out that an inclusion of developmental systems properties into evolutionary theory represents a shift of explanatory emphasis from the external factors of natural selection to the internal dynamics of developmental systems, complementing adaptation with emergence, and contingency with inherency. J. Exp. Zool. (Mol. Dev. Evol.) 304B:487–503, 2005. © 2005 Wiley-Liss, Inc.