Studies of ontogenetic processes are fundamentally dependent on hypotheses of phylogeny. The model of Alberch et al. (1979) is reformulated in terms of phylogenetics and used to describe how heterochronic ontogenetic processes can be detected in nature. Heterochronic processes producing paedomorphosis can result in morphologies which resemble primitive (retained ancestral) traits; the conditions under which paedomorphic and primitive features can and cannot be distinguished are described. The utility of ontogeny for determination of evolutionary character transformations and character polarity and for detection of convergence and parallelism are considered. The ontogenetic criterion for assessing polarity is independent of hypotheses of phylogeny and may be as effective as outgroup comparison. Ontogenetic analysis may aid in the detection of convergence but not in the detection of parallelism.
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