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Craniofacial diversification in the domestic pigeon and the evolution of the avian skull.


A central question in evolutionary developmental biology is how highly conserved developmental systems can generate the remarkable phenotypic diversity observed among distantly related species. In part, this paradox reflects our limited knowledge about the potential for species to both respond to selection and generate novel variation. Consequently, the developmental links between small-scale microevolutionary variations within populations to larger macroevolutionary patterns among species remain unbridged. Domesticated species, such as the pigeon, are unique resources for addressing this question, because a history of strong artificial selection has significantly increased morphological diversity, offering a direct comparison of the developmental potential of a single species to broader evolutionary patterns. Here, we demonstrate that patterns of variation and covariation within and between the face and braincase in domesticated breeds of the pigeon are predictive of avian cranial evolution. These results indicate that selection on variation generated by a conserved developmental system is sufficient to explain the evolution of crania as different in shape as the albatross or eagle, parakeet or hummingbird. These 'rules' of cranio-facial variation are a common pattern in the evolution of a broad diversity of vertebrate species and may ultimately reflect structural limitations of a shared embryonic bauplan on functional variation.

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