Analyzing evolutionary patterns in amniote embryonic development*

Authors

  • Jonathan E. Jeffery,

    1. Department of Anatomy and Developmental Biology, St. George's Hospital Medical School, Tooting, London SW17 ORE, UK;
    2. Current address: Institute of Evolutionary and Ecological Sciences, Leiden University, Kaiserstraat 63, P.O. Box 9516, 2300 RA Leiden, The Netherlands;
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  • Olaf R. P. Bininda-Emonds,

    1. Institute of Evolutionary and Ecological Sciences, Leiden University, Kaiserstraat 63, P.O. Box 9516, 2300 RA Leiden, The Netherlands;
    2. Current address: Lehrstuhl für Tierucht, Technical University of Munich, D-85354 Fresing-Weihenstephan, Germany
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  • Michael I. Coates,

    1. Department of Organismal Biology & Anatomy, University of Chicago,1027 East 57th Street, Chicago, IL 60637-1508, USA;
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  • Michael K. Richardson

    1. Department of Anatomy and Developmental Biology, St. George's Hospital Medical School, Tooting, London SW17 ORE, UK;
    2. Current address: Institute of Evolutionary and Ecological Sciences, Leiden University, Kaiserstraat 63, P.O. Box 9516, 2300 RA Leiden, The Netherlands;
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  • *

    The authors will distribute additional data used in this article upon request, free of charge via post or email. Limits of space prevented the inclusion of the data here. The additional data were made available to the reviewers.

Correspondence (email: jeffery@rulsfb.leidenuniv.nl )

Abstract

SUMMARY Heterochrony (differences in developmental timing between species) is a major mechanism of evolutionary change. However, the dynamic nature of development and the lack of a universal time frame makes heterochrony difficult to analyze. This has important repercussions in any developmental study that compares patterns of morphogenesis and gene expression across species. We describe a method that makes it possible to quantify timing shifts in embryonic development and to map their evolutionary history. By removing a direct dependence on traditional staging series, through the use of a relative time frame, it allows the analysis of developmental sequences across species boundaries. Applying our method to published data on vertebrate development, we identified clear patterns of heterochrony. For example, an early onset of various heart characters occurs throughout amniote evolution. This suggests that advanced (precocious) heart development arose in evolutionary history before endothermy. Our approach can be adapted to analyze other forms of comparative dynamic data, including patterns of developmental gene expression.

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