Shared patterns of segment size development in trilobites and vertebrates

Mark C. Nikolic, Melanie J. Hopkins, Alistair R. Evans

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


The relative sizes of body segments are a major determinant of the shape and functionality of an animal. Developmental biases affecting this trait can therefore have major evolutionary implications. In vertebrates, a molecular activator/inhibitor mechanism, known as the inhibitory cascade (IC), produces a simple and predictable pattern of linear relative size along successive segments. The IC model is considered the default mode of vertebrate segment development and has produced long-term biases in the evolution of serially homologous structures such as teeth, vertebrae, limbs, and digits. Here we investigate whether the IC model or an IC-like model also has controls on segment size development in an ancient and hyperdiverse group of extinct arthropods, the trilobites. We examined segment size patterning in 128 trilobite species, and during ontogenetic growth in three trilobite species. Linear relative segment size patterning is prominent throughout the trunk of trilobites in the adult form, and there is strict regulation of this patterning in newly developing segments in the pygidium. Extending the analysis to select stem and modern arthropods suggests that the IC is a common default mode of segment development capable of producing long-term biases in morphological evolution across arthropods as it does in vertebrates.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1479-1487
Number of pages9
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2023


  • arthropods
  • developmental bias
  • morphological evolution
  • paleobiology
  • segmentation
  • trilobites

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