The Early Radiations of Cetacea (Mammalia): Evolutionary Pattern and Developmental Correlations

Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics

Vol. 33:73-90 (Volume publication date November 2002)


AbstractThe origin and early evolution of Cetacea (whales, dolphins, and porpoises) is one of the best examples of macroevolution as documented by fossils. Early whales are divided into six families that differ greatly in their habitats, which varied from land to freshwater, coastal waters, and fully marine. Early cetaceans lived in the Eocene (55–37 million years ago), and they show an enormous morphological diversity. Toward the end of the Eocene the modern cetacean body plan originated, and this body plan remained more or less the same in the subsequent evolution. It is possible that some aspects of this body plan are rooted in constraints that are dictated by cetacean embryol ogic development and controlled by genes that affect many organ systems at once. It may be possible to use a study of patterns of correlations among morphological traits to test hypotheses of developmental links among organ systems.