Developmental biology, evolution competition among body parts in the development and evolution of insect morphology

H. F. Nijhout, D. J. Emlen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

336 Scopus citations


Changes in form during ontogeny and evolution depend in large measure on changes in the relative growth of the various parts of the body. The current consensus in developmental biology is that the final size of appendages and internal organs is regulated autonomously, within the structure itself. Size regulation of body parts typically requires no external control and is thought to be relatively insensitive to signals from the developmental environment. We show in two very different systems, butterfly wings and beetle horns, that experimentally induced changes in the allocation of developmental resources to one trait produces compensatory changes in the relative sizes of other traits. These findings illustrate that interaction among body parts in development is part of the mechanism of size regulation of those parts. Furthermore, in the case of beetle horns, we show that the tradeoff in size is manifest as a significant negative genetic correlation among the involved body parts and, therefore, constitutes a developmental source of genetic constraint on the evolution of body form.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3685-3689
Number of pages5
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number7
StatePublished - Mar 31 1998


  • Allocation tradeoff
  • Developmental constraint
  • Genetic constraint
  • Growth compensation
  • Relative growth


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