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The evolution of complex multicellularity in animals

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jats:titleAbstract</jats:title>jats:pThe transition to multicellularity is perhaps the best-studied of the “major evolutionary transitions”. It has occurred independently multiple times within the eukaryotes alone, and multicellular organisms comprise virtually the entirety of Earth’s macrobiota. However, the theoretical framework used to study the major evolutionary transitions does not neatly accommodate the evolution of complex multicellularity as a process distinct from the evolution of multicellularity more generally. Here, I attempt to fill this explanatory gap. I will first give an overview of research on the major evolutionary transitions, focusing on multicellularity, and demonstrate that the theoretical framework so far utilised does not provide us with sufficient conceptual tools to explain crucial phenomena that call for explanation, such as the evolution of organs and organ systems. I will then discuss our current understanding of early metazoan evolution as paradigmatically exemplifying the evolution of complex organisation in a multicellular system, specifically regarding three core processes enabling it, namely jats:italicmodularisation</jats:italic>, jats:italicsubfunctionalisation</jats:italic>, and jats:italicintegration</jats:italic>, allowing the provision of a general account of the evolution of complex from simple multicellularity that is potentially applicable to other such cases such as the evolution of land plants. This paves the way for a revised account of major evolutionary transitions which incorporates the evolution of complex organismal traits following the evolution of minimal autonomous reproducers while marking a shift of emphasis from reproducers to organisms.</jats:p>



Article, Multicellularity, Complexity, Evolutionary transitions in individuality, Major evolutionary transitions, Biological Structuralism, Animal evolution

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Biology and Philosophy

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Springer Science and Business Media LLC
University of Bristol (University of Bristol)