Developmental perspective on size change and allometry in evolution

Brian T Shea*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

45 Scopus citations


The evolution of changes in body size is one of the most important patterns in the history of life. Its importance arises from both the frequency of the pattern and the biological implications of size change itself, which affects myriad aspects of an organism's structure and function through well‐known scaling relationships. Yet relatively little attention has been focused on the underlying genetic and developmental controls of size change or their implications with regard to other morphological changes. Here, I review the endocrine growth axis and show that variation in several key growth‐control substances, particularly growth hormone (GH) and insulin‐like growth factor I (IGF I), is clearly linked to intraspecific differences in postnatal growth rates and terminal body size. I intentionally review a considerable amount of literature on nonprimate mammals because this research is vital to an understanding of the general topic. Research on human pygmies, giant transgenic mice, and other models of growth disturbances indicates that shifts in GH and/or IGF I levels not only yield the expected changes in terminal body size, but also result in simple truncations or extensions of underlying allometric patterns. These data provide a possible developmental basis for the common finding of ontogenetic scaling and coordinated transformations in series of closely related fossil or living species that differ in body size. At present, however, this must be viewed as a hypothesis that requires testing through interspecific analyses. A consideration of previous interpretations of the morphological distinctions of human pygmies and some other organisms demonstrates the novel information that a developmental perspective brings to morphological comparisons. Clearly, knowledge of the genetic and developmental controls of morphogenesis will greatly enhance our understanding of a multitude of evolutionary patterns, processes and mechanisms, for it is perturbations in these these controls that ultimately produce the raw material for evolutionary transformations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)125-134
Number of pages10
JournalEvolutionary Anthropology: Issues, News, and Reviews
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1992


  • Growth
  • hormone
  • ontogenetic Scaling
  • phylogeny

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anthropology


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