Paths less traveled: Evo-devo approaches to investigating animal morphological evolution

Ricardo Mallarino, Arhat Abzhanov

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


One of the chief aims of modern biology is to understand the causes and mechanisms of morphological evolution. Multicellular animals display a stunning diversity of shapes and sizes of their bodies and individual suborganismal structures, much of it important to their survival. What is the most efficient way to study the evolution of morphological diversity? The old-new field of evolutionary developmental biology (evo-devo) can be particularly useful for understanding the origins of animal forms, as it aims to consolidate advances from disparate fields such as phylogenetics, genomics, morphometrics, cell biology, and developmental biology. We analyze the structure of some of the most successful recent evo-devo studies, which we see as having three distinct but highly interdependent components: (a) morphometrics, (b) identification of candidate mechanisms, and (c) functional experiments. Our case studies illustrate how multifarious evo-devo approaches taken within the three-winged evo-devo research program explain developmental mechanisms for morphological evolution across different phylogenetic scales.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)743-763
Number of pages21
JournalAnnual review of cell and developmental biology
StatePublished - 2012
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Cell Biology
  • Developmental Biology


  • comparative developmental analysis, functional analysis
  • evolutionary developmental biology
  • morphological transition
  • morphometrics


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