Of Chicken Wings and Frog Legs: A Smorgasbord of Evolutionary Variation in Mechanisms of Tetrapod Limb Development

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The tetrapod limb, which has served as a paradigm for the study of development and morphological evolution, is becoming a paradigm for developmental evolution as well. In its origin and diversification, the tetrapod limb has undergone a great deal of remodeling. These morphological changes and other evolutionary phenomena have produced variation in mechanisms of tetrapod limb development. Here, we review that variation in the four major clades of limbed tetrapods. Comparisons in a phylogenetic context reveal details of development and evolution that otherwise may have been unclear. Such details include apparent differences in the mechanisms of dorsal–ventral patterning and limb identity specification between mouse and chick and mechanistic novelties in amniotes, anurans, and urodeles. As we gain a better understanding of the details of limb development, further differences among taxa will be revealed. The use of appropriate comparative techniques in a phylogenetic context thus sheds light on evolutionary transitions in limb morphology and the generality of developmental models across species and is therefore important to both evolutionary and developmental biologists.


At the time of publication Geffrey F. Stopper was affiliated with Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Yale University.