Logical connections exist between evolutionary modularity and heterochrony, two unifying and structuring themes in the expanding field of evolutionary developmental biology. The former sees complex phenotypes as being made up of semi-independent units of evolutionary transformation; the latter requires such a modular organization of phenotypes to occur in a localized or mosaic fashion. This conceptual relationship is illustrated here by analyzing the evolutionary changes in the cranidial ontogeny of two related species of Cambrian trilobites. With arguments from comparative developmental genetics and functional morphology, we delineate putative evolutionary modules within the cranidium and examine patterns of evolutionary changes in ontogeny at both global and local scales. Results support a case of mosaic heterochrony, that is, a combination of local heterochronies affecting the different parts individuated in the cranidium, leading to the complex pattern of allometric repatterning observed at the global scale. Through this example, we show that recasting morphological analyses of complex phenotypes with a priori knowledge or hypotheses about their organizational and variational properties can significantly improve our interpretation and understanding of evolutionary changes among related taxa, fossil and extant. Such considerations open avenues to investigate the large-scale dynamics of modularity and its role in phenotypic evolution.
Gerber, S., & Hopkins, M. J. (2011). Mosaic heterochrony and evolutionary modularity: the trilobite genus Zacanthopsis as a case study. Evolution, 65(11), 3241-3252. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1558-5646.2011.01363.x