In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Evolutionary Developmental Biology

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Books
  • Journals
  • Professional Societies
  • History
  • Origins of Development
  • Genetic Foundations
  • Gene Regulatory Networks
  • Cell Types
  • Developmental Processes
  • Emergent Variation
  • Bias and Constraint
  • Phenotypic Novelty
  • Organismal Complexity
  • Animal Body Plans
  • Plant Body Plans
  • Eco-Evo-Devo
  • Systematics
  • Modeling
  • Evolutionary Theory

Evolutionary Biology Evolutionary Developmental Biology
Gerd B. Müller, Ehab Abouheif
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 August 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199941728-0138


Evolutionary developmental biology, or evo-devo, is the study of the reciprocal relationships between ontogenetic development and evolutionary processes. This still relatively new research field, of roughly four decades, is highly heterogeneous and based on a variety of different approaches and interpretations of evo-devo as a research field. Broadly conceived forms of evo-devo, in which nearly every comparative-embryological or developmental-genetic approach is presumed to have evolutionary significance, intersect with more specialized practices that are characterized by the explicit evolutionary questions they attempt to answer. In this bibliographic survey we focus on the latter. These works explore an interconnected set of two principal scientific problems: How do the mechanisms of individual development evolve, and how do the properties of developmental systems that characterize organismal lineages influence their further evolution? Within each of these larger areas, a host of more detailed questions can be defined, and, in pursuing them, evo-devo addresses many empirical and conceptual issues that pertain to the emergence of complex phenotypes as well as the evolving interactions of development with population-level processes and the environment. The theoretical consequences of these kinds of investigations have a significant impact on how organismal evolution is conceptualized today. Thus, the publications listed herein were chosen for their specific evo-devo content and their capacity to bridge the empirical and theoretical dimensions. Recent works are favored, but foundational classics of individual subject areas are also cited. Besides the general parts, our survey contains sixteen thematic sections that cover the most important areas of evo-devo research. For each of these sections, we were permitted to list up to ten publications. Of course, this cannot do justice to all the excellent work in the field. Therefore, we attempted to highlight publications that are representative of the selected areas and address crucial conceptual aspects. Since even this criterion is a highly subjective one, we ask all those whose work could not be included for their understanding. In addition to providing an introduction to the characteristic themes of evo-devo, we have aimed for a suitability of this survey as a comprehensive resource for the teaching of evo-devo to advanced undergraduate and graduate students.

General Overviews

Currently, there exists no up-to-date book-length account that covers the entire research agenda of evo-devo. A number of concise overview articles exemplify different perspectives on the research field and its diverse goals. Among these, Bolker 2001 and Wagner, et al. 2000 focus on the mechanistic aspects; Frohlich 2006, Hall 2012, and Minelli 2015 define key research questions; and Love 2003 and Moczek, et al. 2015 address ongoing thematic transformations of evo-devo and its integrative potential. Raff 2000 and Müller 2008 characterize the disciplinary distinctiveness of evo-devo, and Austin and Nuño de la Rosa 2018 takes a philosophical perspective characterizing evo-devo as a science of dispositions. Textbook-like volumes are listed in the section Books.

  • Austin, C. J., and L. Nuño de la Rosa. 2018. Dispositional properties in evo-devo. In Evolutionary developmental biology: A reference guide. Edited by L. Nuño de la Rosa and G. B. Müller, 469–481. Cham, Switzerland: Springer International.

    A philosophical analysis that contrasts the externalist perspective of standard evolutionary theory with the internalist one of evo-devo, characterizing the latter as a science of developmental dispositions that transcend explanatory models focused on chance events and adaptive dynamics.

  • Bolker, J. A. 2001. Evolutionary developmental biology: Developmental and genetic mechanisms of evolutionary change. In Encyclopedia of life sciences. Edited by G. Fullerlove. London: Nature Publishing Group.

    Assigns a crucial role to the evolution of gene regulation, in particular of genes involved in regionalization and patterning of the body and the elaboration of deeply conserved and widely shared gene networks.

  • Frohlich, M. 2006. Recommendations and goals for evo-devo research: Scenarios, genetic constraint, and developmental homeostasis. Aliso 22:172–187.

    DOI: 10.5642/aliso.20062201.14

    An overview of the evo-devo research program, summarizing questions, goals, methodologies, and testable scenarios, approached from a plant biological perspective.

  • Hall, B. K. 2012. Evolutionary developmental biology (evo-devo): Past, present, and future. Evolution: Education and Outreach 5:184–193.

    DOI: 10.1007/s12052-012-0418-x

    A condensed survey of the history of evo-devo and an outlook into the future by one of the most influential authors in the field, who gave it its name with the title of his 1992 book on the same topic.

  • Love, A. C. 2003. Evolutionary morphology, innovation, and the synthesis of evolutionary and developmental biology. Biology & Philosophy 18.2: 309–345.

    DOI: 10.1023/A:1023940220348

    Provides a contrast to the standard idea that evo-devo unites embryology with evolutionary theory via developmental genetics by arguing that functional and evolutionary morphology represents an alternative conceptual basis of unification.

  • Minelli, A. 2015. Grand challenges in evolutionary developmental biology. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution 2:1–11.

    DOI: 10.3389/fevo.2014.00085

    A review of the major conceptual questions underlying evo-devo and the challenges they provide to standard explanations, distinguishing evolution-centered and development-centered questions.

  • Moczek, A. P., K. E. Sears, A. Stollewerk, et al. 2015. The significance and scope of evolutionary developmental biology: a vision for the 21st century. Evolution & Development 17:198–219.

    DOI: 10.1111/ede.12125

    Focuses on the growth of evo-devo and its ongoing interdisciplinary transformation through its expansion into a multitude of neighboring domains, emphasizing its potential to unify major areas of the biological sciences and to inform policy decisions.

  • Müller, G. B. 2008. Evo-devo as a discipline. In Evolving pathways: Key themes in evolutionary developmental biology. Edited by A. Minelli and G. Fusco, 5–30. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511541582.004

    Identifies three conceptual roots of evo-devo and characterizes its disciplinary distinctiveness through its scientific questions, its empirical research programs, and its specific consequences for evolutionary theory.

  • Raff, R. A. 2000. Evo-devo: the evolution of a new discipline. Nature Reviews Genetics 1:74–79.

    DOI: 10.1038/35049594

    Demonstrates that organismal evolution cannot be understood without understanding the evolution of development and how its processes bias or constrain phenotypic change. Sees a revolutionary synthesis of developmental and evolutionary biology in progress.

  • Wagner, G. P., C. Chiu, and M. Laubichler. 2000. Developmental evolution as a mechanistic science: The inference from developmental mechanisms to evolutionary processes. American Zoologist 40:819–831.

    DOI: 10.1093/icb/40.5.819

    The authors use the term “developmental evolution” to characterize the subfield of evo-devo that concentrates on the evolution of developmental mechanisms, homology assessment, the genotype-phenotype map, and patterns of phenotypic evolution, identifying the mechanistic explanation of evolutionary innovations as its most distinctive attribute.

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