Development shapes the evolutionary diversification of rodent stripe patterns

Merlijn Staps, Pearson W. Miller, Corina E. Tarnita, Ricardo Mallarino

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Vertebrate groups have evolved strikingly diverse color patterns. However, it remains unknown to what extent the diversification of such patterns has been shaped by the proximate, developmental mechanisms that regulate their formation. While these developmental mechanisms have long been inaccessible empirically, here we take advantage of recent insights into rodent pattern formation to investigate the role of development in shaping pattern diversification across rodents. Based on a broad survey of museum specimens, we first establish that various rodents have independently evolved diverse patterns consisting of longitudinal stripes, varying across species in number, color, and relative positioning. We then interrogate this diversity using a simple model that incorporates recent molecular and developmental insights into stripe formation in African striped mice. Our results suggest that, on the one hand, development has facilitated pattern diversification: The diversity of patterns seen across species can be generated by a single developmental process, and small changes in this process suffice to recapitulate observed evolutionary changes in pattern organization. On the other hand, development has constrained diversification: Constraints on stripe positioning limit the scope of evolvable patterns, and although pattern organization appears at first glance phylogenetically unconstrained, development turns out to impose a cryptic constraint. Altogether, this work reveals that pattern diversification in rodents can in part be explained by the underlying development and illustrates how pattern formation models can be leveraged to interpret pattern evolution.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2312077120
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number45
StatePublished - 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


  • color patterns
  • developmental constraints
  • pattern development
  • pattern evolution
  • self-organization


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