Testing hypotheses of neural evolution in gymnotiform electric fishes using phylogenetic character data

James S. Albert, Michael J. Lannoo, Tamaki Yuri

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

29 Scopus citations


In this paper, we propose a method to test alternative hypotheses of phenotypic evolution. The method compares patterns observed in phylogenetic character data with patterns expected by explicit models of evolutionary process. Observed patterns of character-state diversity are assessed from four properties of character-state change derived from a phylogenetic analysis: the sequence and correlation of transformations on a cladogram and the spatial and functional localization of these transformations to parts of an organism. Patterns expressed in terms of the localization of transformations are compared with the expectations of null models that the number of transformations is proportional to measures of size or complexity. Deviations from the values expected by the null models are then compared with qualitative expectations of the models. The method is applied to characters in the nervous system of gymnotiform electric fishes. Patterns in the diversity of 63 reconstructed character-state changes are compared with the expectations of 10 published models of neural evolution. A total of 63 expectations are reviewed, of which 33 (52%) are found to be consistent with the gymnotiform neural data. In general, the models reviewed are not successful at making global predictions, in part because they have been cast in excessively general terms. The data support the conclusion that evolution in the nervous system of gymnotiforms has involved a mosaic of processes, each operating differentially on functional and developmental systems and at different spatial and temporal scales. The results also indicate that more refined models are required, each making more explicit predictions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1760-1780
Number of pages21
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jan 1 1998


  • Anatomy
  • Brain
  • Developmental constraints
  • Electric organs
  • Histology
  • Morphology
  • Phylogenetic analysis
  • Sensory receptors
  • Specialization
  • Vertebrate

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Genetics(clinical)
  • Ecology
  • Genetics

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