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Abstract Detail

Morphospaces, Morphometrics, and Phylogenetics

Gerber, Sylvain [1].

Morphospaces in evolutionary biology: state of the art and challenges.

Morphospaces can be broadly defined as multidimensional spaces spanned by measures of morphology. In such spaces, plant or animal taxa plot as points and the spatial proximity of points reflects the degree of morphological similarity of the corresponding organisms.
Rooted in the fields of phenetics and numerical taxonomy, further expanded by quantitative paleobiologists and morphometricians, morphospaces have now become an integral part of the analytical toolkit of evolutionary biologists. They have proved extremely useful in many fields such as evolutionary morphology, functional morphology, and comparative morphology and systematics. Classic examples of their use include the quantification of morphological variation at micro- and macroevolutionary scales (intraspecific variation and disparity), the analysis of evolutionary and developmental trajectories of morphological change, and the comparison of realized and non-realized forms as portrayed in theoretical morphospaces (theoretical morphology).
Here, I briefly review the conceptual foundations of morphospace constructs and emphasize their mathematical diversity. The term morphospace gathers a relatively vast and heterogeneous set of mathematical objects, with unequal geometric properties and distinct characterizations of organismal shape, form, and morphology. Morphometric spaces such as Kendall’s shape space benefit from a solid statistical theory of shape but impose strict limits on the diversity of morphologies that can be compared. Conversely, discrete character spaces appear more flexible with regard to the morphological breadth they can accommodate, but we still lack a clear understanding of their properties.
Finally, I discuss the limits of morphological distance for addressing some evolutionary questions. In particular, advances in evolutionary developmental biology have unravelled the complex structure of the genotype-phenotype map. This structure has important implications for the actual topology of the morphospace (evolutionary accessibility among phenotypes) and poses important conceptual and methodological challenges to evolutionary biologists and morphometricians.

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1 - University of Cambridge, Department of Earth Sciences, Downing Street, Cambridge, CB23EQ, UK

Theoretical morphology
morphological disparity.

Presentation Type: Symposium Presentation
Session: SY06
Location: Salon 10/The Shaw Conference Centre
Date: Monday, July 27th, 2015
Time: 1:45 PM
Number: SY06002
Abstract ID:399
Candidate for Awards:None

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