A bigger picture: Organismal function at the nexus of development, ecology, and evolution: An introduction to the symposium

P. M. Gignac, S. E. Santana

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Over the past 40 years of research, two perspectives have dominated the study of ecomorphology at ontogenetic and evolutionary timescales. For key anatomical complexes (e.g., feeding apparatus, locomotor systems, sensory structures), morphological changes during ontogeny are often interpreted in functional terms and linked to their putative importance for fitness. Across larger timescales, morphological transformations in these complexes are examined through character stability or mutability during cladogenesis. Because the fittest organisms must pass through ontogenetic changes in size and shape, addressing transformations in morphology at different time scales, from life histories to macroevolution, has the potential to illuminate major factors contributing to phenotypic diversity. To date, most studies have relied on the assumption that organismal form is tightly constrained by the adult niche. Although this could be accurate for organisms that rapidly reach and spend a substantial portion of their life history at the adult phenotype (e.g., birds, mammals), it may not always hold true for species that experience substantial growth after one or more major fitness filters during their ontogeny (e.g., some fishes, reptiles). In such circumstances, examining the adult phenotype as the primary result of selective processes may be erroneous as it likely obscures the developmental configuration of morphology that was most critical to early survival. Given this discrepancy - and its potential to mislead interpretations of how selection may shape a taxon's phenotype - this symposium addresses the question: how do we identify such ontogenetic "inertia," and how do we integrate developmental information into our phylogenetic, ecological, and functional interpretations of complex phenotypes?

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)369-372
Number of pages4
JournalIntegrative and Comparative Biology
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1 Sep 2016


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