Biological Systematics in the Evo-Devo era

Alessandro MINELLI

en European Journal of Taxonomy 2015 (125) - Pages 1-23 (EJT-125)

Published on 08 June 2015

Evolutionary developmental biology (evo-devo) suggests a distinction between modular and systemic variation. In the case of modular change, the conservation of the overall structure helps recognizing affinities, while a single, fast evolving module is likely to produce a bonanza for the taxonomist, while systemic changes produce strongly deviating morphologies that cause problems in tracing homologies. Similarly, changes affecting the whole life cycle are more challenging than those limited to one stage. Developmental modularity is a precondition for heterochrony. Analyzing a matrix of morphological data for paedomorphic taxa requires special care. It is, however, possible to extract phylogenetic signal from heterochronic patterns. The taxonomist should pay attention to the intricacies of the genotype→phenotype map. When using genetic data to infer phylogeny, a comparison of gene sequences is just a first step. To bridge the gap between genes and morphology we should consider the spatial and temporal patterns of gene expression, and their regulation. Minor genetic change can have major phenotypic effects, sometimes suggesting saltational evolution. Evo-devo is also relevant in respect to speciation: changes in developmental schedules are often implicated in the divergence between sympatric morphs, and a developmental modulation of ‘temporal phenotypes’ appears to be responsible for many cases of speciation.


Genotype→phenotype map, heterochrony, saltational evolution, speciation, temporal phenotype.

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