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Q Rev Biol. 2002 Dec;77(4):383-408.

Integrating historical and mechanistic biology enhances the study of adaptation.

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  • 1Department of Biology, Lewis and Clark College, Portland, Oregon 97219-7899, USA.


Adding a causal, mechanistic dimension to the study of character evolution will increase the strength of inferences regarding the evolutionary history of characters and their adaptive consequences. This approach has the advantage of illuminating mechanism and testing evolutionary hypotheses rigorously. We consider the advantages of combining mechanistic and historical biology in the study of behavior, physiology, and development. We present six examples to illustrate the advantages: (1) preexisting biases in sound perception in frogs; (2) preexisting biases in visual cues in swordtailfishes; (3) exploitation of prey location behavior for attraction of mates in water mites; (4) heterospecific mating in asexual molly fishes; (5) developmental foundation of morphological diversification in amphibian digits; and (6) locomotor performance at low temperature and the evolution of nocturnality in geckos. In each of these examples, the dominant role of history, combined with organismal integration, makes ignoring history a risky proposition.

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