Scientists have revealed what may well be the first pervasive rule of evolution.
In a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences researchers have found evidence which suggests that evolution drives animals to become increasingly more complex.
Looking back through the last 550 million years of the fossil catalogue to the present day, the team investigated the different evolutionary branches of the crustacean family tree.
They were seeking examples along the tree where animals evolved that were simpler than their ancestors.
Instead they found organisms with increasingly more complex structures and features, suggesting that there is some mechanism driving change in this direction.
If you start with the simplest possible animal body, then theres only one direction to evolve in you have to become more complex, said Dr Matthew Wills from the Department of Biology & Biochemistry at the University of Bath who worked with colleagues Sarah Adamowicz from from the University of Waterloo (Canada) and Andy Purvis from Imperial College London.
Sooner or later, however, you reach a level of complexity where its possible to go backwards and become simpler again.
Whats astonishing is that hardly any crustaceans have taken this backwards route.
Instead, almost all branches have evolved in the same direction, becoming more complex in parallel.
This is the nearest thing to a pervasive evolutionary rule thats been found.
Of course, there are exceptions within the crustacean family tree, but most of these are parasites, or animals living in remote habitats such as isolated marine caves.
For those free-living animals in the rat-race of evolution, it seems that competition may be the driving force behind the trend.
Whats new about our results is that they show us how this increase in complexity has occurred.
Strikingly, it looks
|Contact: Andrew McLaughlin|
University of Bath