From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

In evolutionary developmental biology, heterochrony is defined as a developmental change in the timing or rate of events, leading to changes in size and shape. There are two main components: the onset and offset of a particular process, and the rate at which the process operates. A developmental process in one species can only be described as heterochronic in relation to the same process in another species, considered the basal or ancestral state, which operates with different onset and offset times, and at different rates. The concept was introduced by Ernst Haeckel in 1875.[1][2]


There are three dimensions of heterochrony:[3][4]

  • Predisplacement and postdisplacement: If a developmental process, such as the growth of a tail in the embryo of "species A", starts earlier and ends earlier than that of "species B", but the rate of growth is the same for both, the final result may basically be the same. The earlier species exhibits predisplacement, the later exhibits postdisplacement.[4]
  • Neoteny: if the rate of growth is increased, and the time between the start and end of development is decreased proportionally, the tail will end up the same size. The species with faster growth exhibits acceleration, and the species with slower exhibits neoteny.[4]
  • Hypermorphosis: if the end of development is delayed and the rate is unaffected, development progresses further, and the tail will also be larger. The species that develops further exhibits hypermorphosis, and the species that does not develop as far exhibits progenesis.[4]


Heterochrony can be identified by comparing phylogenetically close species, for example a group of different bird species whose legs differ in their average length. These comparisons are complex because there are no universal ontogenetic timemarkers. The method of event pairing attempts to overcome this by comparing the relative timing of two events at a time.[5] This method detects event heterochronies, as opposed to allometric changes. It is cumbersome to use because the number of event pair characters increases with the square of the number of events compared. Event pairing can however be automated, for instance with the PARSIMOV script.[6] A recent method, continuous analysis, rests on a simple standardization of ontogenetic time or sequences, on squared change parsimony and phylogenetic independent contrasts.[7]


Axolotls retain gills and fins as adults; these are juvenile features in most amphibians.

Paedomorphosis can be observed following two general methods: neoteny, which is the retention of juvenile traits into the adult form as a result of retardation of somatic development; and progenesis, which is the acceleration of developmental processes such that the juvenile form becomes a sexually mature adult.[8]

Neoteny retards the development of the organism into an adult, and has been described as “eternal childhood”.[9] In this form of heterochrony, the developmental stage of childhood is itself extended, and certain developmental processes that normally take place only during childhood (such as accelerated brain growth in humans[10][11][12]), is also extended throughout this period. Species that display neoteny do eventually reach an adult morphology, but have an extended childhood compared to their close evolutionary relatives. Neoteny also has been implicated as a developmental cause for a number of behavior changes, as a result of increased brain plasticity and extended childhood.[13]

Progenesis (or paedogenesis) can be observed in the axolotl (Ambystoma mexicanum). Axolotls reach full sexual maturity while retaining their fins and gills, and never enter the adult form at all, instead developing adult characteristics while still in the juvenile morphological form. They also remain in aquatic environments, rather than moving onto land as other sexually mature salamander species.[9][10]


Irish elk skeleton with antlers spanning 2.7 metres (8.9 ft) and a mass of 40 kg (88 lb)

Peramorphosis is delayed maturation with extended periods of growth. An example is the extinct Irish elk. From the fossil record, its antlers spanned up to 12 feet wide, which is about a third larger than the antlers of its close relative the moose. The Irish elk had larger antlers due to extended development during their period of growth.[14][15]

Another example of peramorphosis is seen in insular (island) rodents. Their characteristics include gigantism, wider cheek and teeth, reduced litter size, and longer lifespan. Their relatives that inhabit continental environments are much smaller. Insular rodents have evolved these features to accommodate the abundance of food and resources they have on their islands. These factors are part of a complex phenomenon termed Island syndrome.[16] With less predation and competition for resources, selection favored overdevelopment of these species. Reduced litter sizes enable overdevelopment of their bodies into larger ones.

Paedomorphic species are mainly aquatic, while peramorphic species are mainly terrestrial. The mole salamander, a close relative to the axolotl, displays both paedomorphosis and paramorphosis. The larva can develop in either direction. Population density, food, and the amount of water may have an effect on the expression of heterochrony. A study conducted on the mole salamander in 1987 found it evident that a higher percentage of individuals became paedomorphic when there was a low larval population density in a constant water level as opposed to a high larval population density in drying water.[17] This had an implication that led to hypotheses hat selective pressures imposed by the environment, such as predation and loss of resources, were instrumental to the cause of these trends.[18] These ideas were reinforced by other studies, such as peramorphosis in the Puerto Rican Tree frog. Another reason could be generation time, or the lifespan of the species in question. When a species has a relatively short lifespan, natural selection favors evolution of paedomorphosis (e.g. Axolotl: 7–10 years). Conversely, in long lifespans natural selection favors evolution of peramorphosis (e.g. Irish Elk: 20–22 years).[16]

In humans

Several heterochronies have been described in humans, relative to the chimpanzee. For instance, in chimpanzee fetuses brain and head growth starts at about the same developmental stage and present a growth rate similar to that of humans, but end soon after birth. Humans, on the contrary, continue their brain and head growth several years after birth. This particular type of heterochrony is named hypermorphosis and involves a delay in the offset of a developmental process, or what is the same, the presence of an early developmental process in later stages of development. In addition, humans are known for presenting about 30 different neotenies in comparison to the chimpanzee.[19][20]


  1. ^ Horder, Tim (April 2006). "Heterochrony". Encyclopedia of Life Sciences. Chichester: John Wiley & Sons. 
  2. ^ Hall, B. K. (2003). "Evo-Devo: evolutionary developmental mechanisms". International Journal of Developmental Biology. 47 (7–8): 491–495. PMID 14756324. 
  3. ^ Reilly, Stephen M., E. O. Wiley, and J. Daniel (1997). "An integrative approach to heterochrony: the distinction between interspecific and intraspecific phenomena" (PDF). Biological Journal of the Linnean Society. 60 (1): 119–143. doi:10.1006/bijl.1996.0092. Retrieved 9 October 2013. 
  4. ^ a b c d Rice, S. H. "Heterochrony". November 2007. Accessed July 14, 2011.
  5. ^ Velhagen W (1997). "Analyzing developmental sequences using sequences units". Systematic Biology. 46 (1): 204–210. doi:10.1093/sysbio/46.1.204. 
  6. ^ Jeffery J, Bininda-Emonds O, Coates M, Richardson M (2005). "A new technique for identifying sequence heterochrony". Systematic Biology. 54 (2): 230–240. PMID 16012094. doi:10.1080/10635150590923227. 
  7. ^ Germain D, Laurin M (2009). "Evolution of ossification sequences in salamanders and urodele origins assessed through event-pairing and new methods". Evolution & Development. 11 (2): 170–190. doi:10.1111/j.1525-142X.2009.00318.x. 
  8. ^ Smith, Charles Kay (1990). "A model for understanding the evolution of mammalian behavior". Current Mammalogy. 2. 
  9. ^ Clive., Bromhall, (2004-01-01). The eternal child : how evolution has made children of us all. Ebury. ISBN 0091894425. OCLC 59288040. 
  10. ^ Somel, Mehmet; Franz, Henriette; Yan, Zheng; Lorenc, Anna; Guo, Song; Giger, Thomas; Kelso, Janet; Nickel, Birgit; Dannemann, Michael (2009-04-07). "Transcriptional neoteny in the human brain". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 106 (14): 5743–5748. ISSN 0027-8424. PMC 2659716Freely accessible. PMID 19307592. doi:10.1073/pnas.0900544106. 
  11. ^ Petanjek, Zdravko; Judaš, Miloš; Šimić, Goran; Rašin, Mladen Roko; Uylings, Harry B. M.; Rakic, Pasko; Kostović, Ivica (2011-08-09). "Extraordinary neoteny of synaptic spines in the human prefrontal cortex". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 108 (32): 13281–13286. ISSN 0027-8424. PMC 3156171Freely accessible. PMID 21788513. doi:10.1073/pnas.1105108108. 
  12. ^ Goyal, Manu S.; Hawrylycz, Michael; Miller, Jeremy A.; Snyder, Abraham Z.; Raichle, Marcus E. (2014-01-07). "Aerobic Glycolysis in the Human Brain Is Associated with Development and Neotenous Gene Expression". Cell Metabolism. 19 (1): 49–57. PMC 4389678Freely accessible. PMID 24411938. doi:10.1016/j.cmet.2013.11.020. 
  13. ^ Coppinger, R.; Glendinning, J.; Torop, E.; Matthay, C.; Sutherland, M.; Smith, C. (1987-01-12). "Degree of Behavioral Neoteny Differentiates Canid Polymorphs". Ethology. 75 (2): 89–108. ISSN 1439-0310. doi:10.1111/j.1439-0310.1987.tb00645.x. 
  14. ^ Futuyma, Douglas (2013). Evolution. Sunderland, MA: Sinauer Associates. pp. 64–66. ISBN 1605351156. 
  15. ^ Moenm Ron A., John Pastor, Yosef Cohen (1999). "Antler growth and extinction of Irish elk". Evolutionary Ecology Research. 1 (2): 235–249. 
  16. ^ a b Raia, Pasquale et al. (2010). "The blue lizard spandrel and the island syndrome". BMC Evolutionary Biology. 10 (1): 289. PMC 2949876Freely accessible. PMID 20854657. doi:10.1186/1471-2148-10-289. 
  17. ^ Semlitsch, Raymond D. (1987). "Paedomorphosis in Ambystoma talpoideum: effects of density, food, and pond drying". Ecology. 68: 992–1002. doi:10.2307/1938370. 
  18. ^ M. Denoel, P. Joly (2000). "Neoteny and progenesis as two heterochronic processes involved in paedomorphosis in Triturus alpestris (Amphibia: Caudata)". Proceedings of the Royal Society: Biological Sciences. B. 267 (1451): 1481–1485. doi:10.1098/rspb.2000.1168. 
  19. ^ Mitteroecker P, Gunz P, Bernhard M, Schaefer K, Bookstein FL (June 2004). "Comparison of cranial ontogenetic trajectories among great apes and humans". J. Hum. Evol. 46 (6): 679–97. PMID 15183670. doi:10.1016/j.jhevol.2004.03.006. 
  20. ^ Penin, Xavier; Berge, Christine; Baylac, Michel (2002-05-01). "Ontogenetic study of the skull in modern humans and the common chimpanzees: neotenic hypothesis reconsidered with a tridimensional Procrustes analysis". American Journal of Physical Anthropology. 118 (1): 50–62. ISSN 0002-9483. PMID 11953945. doi:10.1002/ajpa.10044. 

See also

Retrieved from "https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Heterochrony&oldid=798214394"
This content was retrieved from Wikipedia : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heterochrony
This page is based on the copyrighted Wikipedia article "Heterochrony"; it is used under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License (CC-BY-SA). You may redistribute it, verbatim or modified, providing that you comply with the terms of the CC-BY-SA