PSA2016: The 25th Biennial Meeting of the Philosophy of Science Association

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Novelty, Innovations and the Major Evolutionary Transitions

Missing from most of the work on major transitions in evolution (MTEs) is attention to how novel morphologies become ecologically and evolutionarily successful. In this paper, I propose a conceptual model that distinguishes between evolutionary potential, novelty, adaptive refinement and innovation. I show that (1) potentiation may occur after novelties, generating macroevolutionary lags; (2) few, if any, adaptive radiations generate novelty, which reinforces the suggestion that novelties are distinct from innovations; and (3) innovations may occur via adaptive changes and are not necessarily tied to phenotypic novelties. I conclude by summarizing the implications of this model for MTE theory.

Author Information:

Douglas Erwin    
National Museum of Natural History


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