The evolution of echinoderm development is driven by several distinct factors
We analyzed a comparative data base of gene expression, cell fate specification, and morphogenetic movements from several echinoderms to determine why developmental processes do and do not evolve. Mapping this comparative data onto explicit phylogenetic frameworks revealed three distinct evolutionary patterns. First, some evolutionary differences in development correlate well with larval ecology but not with adult morphology. These associations are probably not coincidental because similar developmental changes accompany similar ecological transformations on separate occasions. This suggests that larval ecology has been a potent influence on the evolution of early development in echinoderms. Second, a few changes in early development correlate with transformations in adult morphology. Because most such changes have occurred only once, however, it is difficult to distinguish chance associations from causal relationships. And third, some changes in development have no apparent phenotypic consequences and do not correlate with obvious features of either life history or morphology. This suggests that some evolutionary changes in development may evolve in a neutral or nearly neutral mode. Importantly, these hypotheses make specific predictions that can be tested with further comparative data and by experimental manipulations. Together, our phylogenetic analyses of comparative data suggest that at least three distinct evolutionary mechanisms have shaped early development in echinoderms.
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