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Developmental drive: an important determinant of the direction of phenotypic evolution




SUMMARY Over any period of evolutionary time, the prevailing ontogenetic trajectory within a lineage may either recur unchanged from generation to generation (stasis) or alter (developmental reprogramming). A key question about reprogramming is whether it exhibits intrinsic biases in favor of some sorts of change and against others, which may be referred to respectively as “drive” and “constraint.” A simple logical argument suggests that both drive and constraint should be common, and conversely that cases of equiprobable modification in various phenotypic directions should be relatively rare. These proposals, that drive and constraint exist and that they are common, appear to be widely accepted, even among neo-Darwinians, who are sometimes portrayed as rejecting them. What is more controversial is that developmental drive (and constraint) can have a powerful influence on the direction of evolutionary change. It is argued that such an influence will occur, and indeed may be pervasive.