Another and Unfairly Maligned Approach to Evolution

In continental Europe, evolutionists have never been much attracted to the Anglo-American penchant for atomizing organisms into parts and trying to explain each as a direct adaptation. Their general alternative exists in both a strong and a weak form. In the strong form, as advocated by such major theorists as Schindewolf (1950), Remane (1971), and Grasse (1977), natural selection under the adaptationist program can explain superficial modifications of the Bauplan that fit structure to environment: why moles are blind, giraffes have long necks, and ducks webbed feet, for example. But the important steps of evolution, the construction of the Bauplan itself and the transition between Baupläne, must involve some other unknown, and perhaps ''internal,'' mechanism. We believe that English biologists have been right in rejecting this strong form as close to an appeal to mysticism.

But the argument has a weaker—and paradoxically powerful—form that has not been appreciated, but deserves to be. It also acknowledges conventional selection for superficial modifications of the Bauplan. It also denies that the adaptationist program (atomization plus optimizing selection on parts) can do much to explain Baupläne and the transitions between them. But it does not therefore resort to a fundamentally unknown process. It holds instead that the basic body plans of organisms are so integrated and so replete with constraints upon adaptation (categories 2 and 5 of our typology) that conventional styles of selective arguments can explain little of interest about them. It does not deny that change, when it occurs, may be mediated by natural selection, but it holds that constraints restrict possible paths and modes of change so strongly that the constraints themselves become much the most interesting aspect of evolution.

Rupert Riedl, the Austrian zoologist who has tried to develop this thesis for English audiences (1977 and 1975, translated into English by R. Jeffries in 1978) writes:

The living world happens to be crowded by universal patterns of organization which, most obviously, find no direct explanation through environmental conditions or adaptive radiation, but exist primarily through universal requirements which can only be expected under the systems conditions of complex organization itself____This is not self-evident, for the whole of the huge and profound thought collected in the field of morphology, from Goethe to Remane, has virtually been cut off from modern biology. It is not taught in most American universities. Even the teachers who could teach it have disappeared.

Constraints upon evolutionary change may be ordered into at least two categories. All evolutionists are familiar with phyletic constraints, as embodied in Gregory's classic distinction (1936) between habitus and heritage. We acknowledge a kind of phyletic inertia in recognizing, for example, that humans are not optimally designed for upright posture because so much of our Bauplan evolved for quadrupedal life. We also invoke phyletic constraint in explaining why no molluscs fly in air and no insects are as large as elephants.

Developmental constraints, a subcategory of phyletic restrictions, may hold the most powerful rein of all over possible evolutionary pathways. In complex organisms, early stages of ontogeny are remarkably refractory to evolutionary change, presumably because the differentiation of organ systems and their integration into a functioning body is such a delicate process so easily derailed by early errors with accumulating effects. Von Baer's fundamental embryological laws (1828) represent little more than a recognition that early stages are both highly conservative and strongly restrictive of later development. Haeckel's biology law, the primary subject of late nineteenth-century evolutionary biology, rested upon a misreading of the same data (Gould 1977). If development occurs in integrated packages and cannot be pulled apart piece by piece in evolution, then the adaptationist program cannot explain the alteration of developmental programs underlying nearly all changes of Bauplan.

The German palaeontologist A. Seilacher, whose work deserves far more attention than it has received, has emphasized what he calls ''bautechnischer, or architectural, constraints'' (Seilacher 1970). These arise not from former adaptations retained in a new ecological setting (phyletic constraints as usually understood), but as architectural restrictions that never were adaptations but rather were the necessary consequences of materials and designs selected to build basic Baupläne. We devoted the first section of this chapter to nonbiological examples in this category. Spandrels must exist once a blueprint specifies that a dome shall rest on rounded arches. Architectural constraints can exert a far-ranging influence upon organisms as well. The subject is full of potential insight because it has rarely been acknowledged at all.

In a fascinating example, Seilacher (1972) has shown that the divaricate form of architecture (figure 5.3) occurs again and again in all groups of molluscs, and in brachio-pods as well. This basic form expresses itself in a wide variety of structures: raised ornamental lines (not growth lines because they do not conform to the mantle margin at any time), patterns of coloration, internal structures in the mineralization of calcite and incised grooves. He does not know what generates this pattern and feels that traditional and nearly exclusive focus on the adaptive value of each manifestation has diverted attention from questions of its genesis in growth and also prevented its recognition as a general phenomenon. It must arise from some characteristic pattern of inhomogeneity in the growing mantle, probably from the generation of interference patterns around regularly spaced centers;simple computer simulations can generate the form in this manner (Waddington and Cowe 1969). The general pattern may not be a direct adaptation at all.

Seilacher then argues that most manifestations of the pattern are probably nonadap-tive. His reasons vary but seem generally sound to us. Some are based on field observations: color patterns that remain invisible because clams possessing them either live buried in sediments or remain covered with a periostracum so thick that the colors cannot be seen. Others rely on more general principles: presence only in odd and pathological individuals, rarity as a developmental anomaly, excessive variability compared with much reduced variability when the same general structure assumes a form judged functional on engineering grounds.

In a distinct minority of cases, the divaricate pattern becomes functional in each of the four categories (figure 5.3). Divaricate ribs may act as scoops and anchors in burrowing (Stanley 1970), but they are not properly arranged for such function in

Divaricate Patterns

DhWotlleiyp* TOdltTyp* F>buHn*Typ* Soi*cuttu*iyp*

Figure 5.3

The range of divaricate patterns in molluscs. E, F, H, and L are non-functional in Seilacher's judgement. A-D are functional ribs (but these are far less common than non-functional ribs of the form E). G is the mimetic Area zebra. K is Corculum. See text for details.

DhWotlleiyp* TOdltTyp* F>buHn*Typ* Soi*cuttu*iyp*

Figure 5.3

The range of divaricate patterns in molluscs. E, F, H, and L are non-functional in Seilacher's judgement. A-D are functional ribs (but these are far less common than non-functional ribs of the form E). G is the mimetic Area zebra. K is Corculum. See text for details.

most clams. The color chevrons are mimetic in one species (Pteria zebra) that lives on hydrozoan branches;here the variability is strongly reduced. The mineralization chevrons are probably adaptive in only one remarkable creature, the peculiar bivalve Corculum eardissa (in other species they either appear in odd specimens or only as postmortem products of shell erosion). This clam is uniquely flattened in an anterioposterior direction. It lies on the substrate, posterior up. Distributed over its rear end are divaricate triangles of mineralization. They are translucent, while the rest of the shell is opaque. Under these windows dwell endosymbiotic algae!

All previous literature on divaricate structure has focused on its adaptive significance (and failed to find any in most cases). But Seilacher is probably right in representing this case as the spandrels, ceiling holes, and sacrificed bodies of our first section. The divaricate pattern is a fundamental architectural constraint. Occasionally, since it is there, it is used to beneficial effect. But we cannot understand the pattern or its evolutionary meaning by viewing these infrequent and secondary adaptations as a reason for the pattern itself.

Galton (1909, p. 257) contrasted the adaptationist program with a focus on constraints and modes of development by citing a telling anecdote about Herbert Spencer's fingerprints:

Much has been written, but the last word has not been said, on the rationale of these curious papillary ridges; why in one man and in one finger they form whorls and in another loops. I may mention a characteristic anecdote of Herbert Spencer in connection with this. He asked me to show him my Laboratory and to take his prints, which I did. Then I spoke of the failure to discover the origin of these patterns, and how the fingers of unborn children had been dissected to ascertain their earliest stages, and so forth. Spencer remarked that this was beginning in the wrong way; that I ought to consider the purpose the ridges had to fulfil, and to work backwards. Here, he said, it was obvious that the delicate mouths of the sudorific glands required the protection given to them by the ridges on either side of them, and therefrom he elaborated a consistent and ingenious hypothesis at great length. I replied that his arguments were beautiful and deserved to be true, but it happened that the mouths of the ducts did not run in the valleys between the crests, but along the crests of the ridges themselves.

We feel that the potential rewards of abandoning exclusive focus on the adaptationist program are very great indeed. We do not offer a counsel of despair, as adapta-tionists have charged; for nonadaptive does not mean nonintelligible. We welcome the richness that a pluralistic approach, so akin to Darwin's spirit, can provide. Under the adaptationist program, the great historic themes of developmental morphology and Bauplan were largely abandoned; for if selection can break any correlation and optimize parts separately, then an organism's integration counts for little. Too often, the adaptationist program gave us an evolutionary biology of parts and genes, but not of organisms. It assumed that all transitions could occur step by step and underrated the importance of integrated developmental blocks and pervasive constraints of history and architecture. A pluralistic view could put organisms, with all their recalcitrant yet intelligible complexity, back into evolutionary theory.


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