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The significance of developmental robustness for species diversity
Melzer, R.; Theißen, G. (2016). The significance of developmental robustness for species diversity. Ann. Bot. 117(5): 725-732.
In: Annals of Botany. Academic Press: London. ISSN 0305-7364; e-ISSN 1095-8290, more
Peer reviewed article  

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Author keywords
    biodiversity, developmental robustness, flower development, orchid, evolutionary innovation, speciation, ecological opportunity, insect, basal angiosperm, diversity, disparity, plasticity

Authors  Top 
  • Melzer, R.
  • Theißen, G.

    Background: The origin of new species and of new forms is one of the fundamental characteristics of evolution. However, the mechanisms that govern the diversity and disparity of lineages remain poorly understood. Particularly unclear are the reasons why some taxa are vastly more species-rich than others and the manner in which species diversity and morphological disparity are interrelated. Scope and Conclusions: Evolutionary innovations and ecological opportunities are usually cited as among the major factors promoting the evolution of species diversity. In many cases it is likely that these factors are positively reinforcing, with evolutionary innovations creating ecological opportunities that in turn foster the origin of new innovations. However, we propose that a third factor, developmental robustness, is very often essential for this reinforcement to be effective. Evolutionary innovations need to be stably and robustly integrated into the developmental genetic programme of an organism to be a suitable substrate for selection to ‘explore’ ecological opportunities and morphological ‘design’ space (morphospace). In particular, we propose that developmental robustness of the bauplan is often a prerequisite for the exploration of morphospace and to enable the evolution of further novelties built upon this bauplan. Thus, while robustness may reduce the morphological disparity at one level, it may be the basis for increased morphological disparity and for evolutionary innovations at another level, thus fostering species diversity.

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