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The Generation of Variation and the Developmental Basis for Evolutionary Novelty

Authors

  • Benedikt HallgrÍmsson,

    Corresponding author
    1. Alberta Children's Hospital Foundation, Institute for Child and Maternal Health, University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta, Canada
    • Department of Cell Biology & Anatomy, McCaig Bone and Joint Institute, University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta, Canada
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  • Heather A. Jamniczky,

    1. Department of Cell Biology & Anatomy, McCaig Bone and Joint Institute, University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta, Canada
    2. Alberta Children's Hospital Foundation, Institute for Child and Maternal Health, University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta, Canada
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  • Nathan M. Young,

    1. Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, University of California, San Francisco, California
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  • Campbell Rolian,

    1. Department of Cell Biology & Anatomy, McCaig Bone and Joint Institute, University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta, Canada
    2. Alberta Children's Hospital Foundation, Institute for Child and Maternal Health, University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta, Canada
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  • Urs Schmidt-ott,

    1. Department of Organismal Biology and Anatomy, University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois
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  • Ralph S. Marcucio

    1. Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, University of California, San Francisco, California
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Correspondence to: Benedikt Hallgrímsson Dept. of Cell Biology & Anatomy, McCaig Bone and Joint Institute, and the Alberta Children's Hospital Foundation Institute for Child and Maternal Health, University of Calgary, 3330 Hospital Dr. NW, Calgary, Alberta T2N 4N1, Canada. E-mail: bhallgri@ucalgary.ca

ABSTRACT

Organisms exhibit an incredible diversity of form, a fact that makes the evolution of novelty seemingly self-evident. However, despite the “obvious” case for novelty, defining this concept in evolutionary terms is highly problematic, so much so that some have suggested discarding it altogether. Approaches to this problem tend to take either an adaptation- or development-based perspective, but we argue here that an exclusive focus on either of these misses the original intent of the novelty concept and undermines its practical utility. We propose instead that for a feature to be novel, it must have evolved both by a transition between adaptive peaks on the fitness landscape and that this transition must have overcome a previous developmental constraint. This definition focuses novelty on the explanation of apparently difficult or low-probability evolutionary transitions and highlights how the integration of developmental and functional considerations are necessary to evolutionary explanation. It further reinforces that novelty is a central concern not just of evolutionary developmental biology (i.e., “evo-devo”) but of evolutionary biology more generally. We explore this definition of novelty in light of four examples that range from the obvious to subtle. J. Exp. Zool. (Mol. Dev. Evol.) 318B:501–517, 2012. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

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