Introducing Trait Networks to Elucidate the Fluidity of Organismal Evolution Using Palaeontological Data

Etienne Lord, Jananan S. Pathmanathan, Eduardo Corel, Vladimir Makarenkov, Philippe Lopez, Frédéric Bouchard, Debashish Bhattacharya, Pierre Olivier Antoine, Hervé Le Guyader, François Joseph Lapointe, Eric Bapteste, Tal Dagan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Explaining the evolution of animals requires ecological, developmental, paleontological, and phylogenetic considerations because organismal traits are affected by complex evolutionary processes. Modeling a plurality of processes, operating at distinct time-scales on potentially interdependent traits, can benefit from approaches that are complementary treatments to phylogenetics. Here, we developed an inclusive network approach, implemented in the command line software ComponentGrapher, and analyzed trait co-occurrence of rhinocerotoid mammals. We identified stable, unstable, and pivotal traits, as well as traits contributing to complexes, that may follow to a common developmental regulation, that point to an early implementation of the postcranial Bauplan among rhinocerotoids. Strikingly, most identified traits are highly dissociable, used repeatedly in distinct combinations and in different taxa, which usually do not form clades. Therefore, the genes encoding these traits are likely recruited into novel gene regulation networks during the course of evolution. Our evo-systemic framework, generalizable to other evolved organizations, supports a pluralistic modeling of organismal evolution, including trees and networks.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2653-2665
Number of pages13
JournalGenome biology and evolution
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 1 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics


  • animal evolution
  • complexes
  • network
  • palaeontology
  • rhinocerotoids
  • tinkering


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