Phenotypic integration: studying the ecology and evolution of complex phenotypes

Ecology Letters 6:265-272 (2003)
Abstract
Phenotypic integration refers to the study of complex patterns of covariation among functionally related traits in a given organism. It has been investigated throughout the 20th century, but has only recently risen to the forefront of evolutionary ecological research. In this essay, I identify the reasons for this late flourishing of studies on integration, and discuss some of the major areas of current endeavour: the interplay of adaptation and constraints, the genetic and molecular bases of integration, the role of phenotypic plasticity, macroevolutionary studies of integration, and statistical and conceptual issues in the study of the evolution of complex phenotypes. I then conclude with a brief discussion of what I see as the major future directions of research on phenotypic integration and how they relate to our more general quest for the understanding of phenotypic evolution within the neo-Darwinian framework. I suggest that studying integration provides a particularly stimulating and truly interdisciplinary convergence of researchers from fields as disparate as molecular genetics, developmental biology, evolutionary ecology, palaeontology and even philosophy of science.
Keywords phenotypic integration  evolutionary mechanisms  constraints
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