Ancestors and homology

Acta Biotheoretica 41 (4) (1993)
Current issues concerning the nature of ancestry and homology are discussed with reference to the evolutionary origin of the tetrapod limb. Homologies are argued to be complex conjectural inferences dependant upon a pre-existing phylogenetic analysisand a theoretical model of the evolutionary development of ontogenetic information. Ancestral conditions are inferred primarily from character (synapomorphy/homology) distributions within phylogeny, because of the deficiencies of palaeontological data. Recent analyses of tetrapod limb ontogeny, and the diverse, earliest morphologies known from the fossil record, are inconsistent with typological concepts such as fixed ancestral patterns or bauplans, emphasising the incompatibility of these with evolutionary continuity. The evolutionary origin of the tetrapod limb is also examined in the light of its recent discussion in developmental genetics. While this field promises to reveal more of the fundamental ontogenetic content of homology (identity), at present it is concerned mostly with the abstraction of a new set of types, rather than investigating diversity and change.
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