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Keywords:

  • Comparative analysis;
  • developmental pathways;
  • evolution of development;
  • parallel evolution;
  • pleiotropy

Molecular genetic analysis of phenotypic variation has revealed many examples of evolutionary change in the developmental pathways that control plant and animal morphology. A major challenge is to integrate the information from diverse organisms and traits to understand the general patterns of developmental evolution. This integration can be facilitated by evolutionary metamodels—traits that have undergone multiple independent changes in different species and whose development is controlled by well-studied regulatory pathways. The metamodel approach provides the comparative equivalent of experimental replication, allowing us to test whether the evolution of each developmental pathway follows a consistent pattern, and whether different pathways are predisposed to different modes of evolution by their intrinsic organization. A review of several metamodels suggests that the structure of developmental pathways may bias the genetic basis of phenotypic evolution, and highlights phylogenetic replication as a value-added approach that produces deeper insights into the mechanisms of evolution than single-species analyses.