Muñoz, M. M., Yinan Hu, P. S. L. Anderson, S. N. Patek. 2018. Strong biomechanical relationships guide the tempo and mode of morphological evolution. eLife 7:e37621. DOI: 10.7554/eLife.37621
The influence of biomechanics on the tempo and mode of morphological evolution is unresolved, yet is fundamental to organismal diversification. Across multiple four-bar linkage systems in animals, we discovered that rapid morphological evolution (tempo) is associated with mechanical sensitivity (strong correlation between a mechanical system's output and one or more of its components). Mechanical sensitivity is explained by size: the smallest link(s) are disproportionately affected by length changes and most strongly influence mechanical output. Rate of evolutionary change (tempo) is greatest in the smallest links and trait shifts across phylogeny (mode) occur exclusively via the influential, small links. Our findings illuminate the paradigms of many-to-one mapping, mechanical sensitivity, and constraints: tempo and mode are dominated by strong correlations that exemplify mechanical sensitivity, even in linkage systems known for exhibiting many-to-one mapping. Amidst myriad influences, mechanical sensitivity imparts distinct, predictable footprints on morphological diversity.