Rupert Riedl and the Re-Synthesis of Evolutionary and Developmental Biology: Body Plans and Evolvability

Günter P. Wagner, Manfred Laubichler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

58 Scopus citations


This paper reviews the scientific career of Rupert Riedl and his contributions to evolutionary biology. Rupert Riedl, a native of Vienna, Austria, began his career as a marine biologist who made important contributions to the systematics and anatomy of major invertebrate groups, as well as to marine ecology. When he assumed a professorship at the University of North Carolina in 1968, the predominant thinking in evolutionary biology focused on population genetics, to the virtual exclusion of most of the rest of biology. In this atmosphere Riedl developed his "systems theory" of evolution, which emphasizes the role of functional and developmental integration in limiting and enabling adaptive evolution by natural selection. The main objective of this theory is to account for the observed patterns of morphological evolution, such as the conservation of body plans. In contrast to other "alternative" theories of evolution, Riedl never denied the importance of natural selection as the driving force of evolution, but thought it necessary to contextualize natural selection with the organismal boundary conditions of adaptation. In Riedl's view development is the most important factor besides natural selection in shaping the pattern and processes of morphological evolution.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)92-102
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Experimental Zoology Part B: Molecular and Developmental Evolution
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 15 2004

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Molecular Medicine
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Genetics
  • Developmental Biology


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