Get access

Deconstructing morphology


Gerhard Scholtz, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Institut für Biologie, Vergleichende Zoologie, Philippstr. 13, 10115 Berlin, Germany. E-mail:


Scholtz, G. 2010. Deconstructing morphology. —Acta Zoologica (Stockholm) 91: 44–63

Morphology as the science of form is, in particular, related to the overwhelming diversity of animal forms. Due to its long pre-Darwinian tradition, organismic morphology is partly burdened by ahistorical typological views. On the other hand, the study of organismic form has always implied concepts of transformation, which helped to pave the way for evolutionary theories. This contradictory history and the fact that we need words to describe organismic form lead in many cases to morphological concepts implying a mixture of structural, functional, developmental, ecological, typological, and evolutionary aspects in current morphological approaches. Because these mixed views lead to contradictory and misleading interpretations of animal form, I stress the need to deconstruct morphological concepts at all levels. I propose a morphology that analyses transformation of animal forms strictly at the structural level in combination with genealogical thinking. Function and other biological aspects of form should be considered in an independent second analytical step. A comparative pattern approach, including developmental patterns, of animal structure in an evolutionary framework allows for the analysis of morphological change, in particular, phylogenetic reconstructions, homology assessment, and the recognition of evolutionary independent morphological units.