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Keywords:

  • novelties;
  • tetrapod;
  • limbs;
  • salamanders;
  • urodeles;
  • digits;
  • ontogeny

Abstract

Classic hypotheses of vertebrate morphology are being informed by new data and new methods. Long nascent issues, such as the origin of tetrapod limbs, are being explored by paleontologists, molecular biologists, and functional anatomists. Progress in this arena will ultimately come down to knowing how macroevolutionary differences between taxa emerge from the genetic and phenotypic variation that arises within populations. The assembly of limbs over developmental and evolutionary time offers examples of the major processes at work in the origin of novelties. Recent comparative developmental analyses demonstrate that many of the mechanisms used to pattern limbs are ancient. One of the major consequences of this phenomenon is parallelism in the evolution of anatomical structures. Studies of both the fossil record and intrapopulational variation of extant populations reveal regularities in the origin of variation. These examples reveal processes acting at the level of populations that directly affect the patterns of diversity observed at higher taxonomic levels. J. Morphol. 252:15–28, 2002. © 2002 Wiley-Liss, Inc.