Field of Science

A morphological interpretation of traits

Have a look at this short video. Do you think it works?

It is supposed to show that new species form when traits are subject to trade-offs. However, in the actual model, those traits govern resource use, but here they are illustrated as morphological traits: tails, wings, legs, whiskers, ears, and eyes. The traits vary over time, resulting in four different species.

Now that you have watched it, my question is whether the nature of the traits in the model is adequately conveyed? What do you think?

The data is from our new paper, Trade-offs drive resource specialization and the gradual establishment of ecotypes in BMC Evolutionary Biology.

Evolutionary compromises drive diversity (MSU Today)
Compromise is key to evolving new creatures (Futurity)
A Winged Cat Helps Explain The Principle Of Evolutionary Trade-Offs (io9)
Evolutionary compromises drive diversity (Fox 47 News)


  1. I think it would be more effective to use realistic traits. Caribbean anole lizards show a lot of morpholigical variation that could easily be illustrated in a cartoon. Or beetles. It doesn't quite click for me with a winged cat, I just think "What does that represent in the real world?" And that's probably why I'm a field biologist and you're a theoretician :)

  2. But the problem is that this animation is made up, and we wanted to make sure people do not go away thinking that we modeled actual cats, or lizards, or beetles.

    Also, can you think of six traits in beetles or lizards that can be easily displayed and changed visually? We had quite a lot of trouble coming up with this.

  3. Hmm, if you want to ensure people don't assume it's a real organism, I would go with beetles. The Caribbean anoles are too well-known (to biologists). Some easy-to-illustrate traits could be size, color, spots, shape (round to oval), antenna length, leg length, ornamentation. I think it would be obvious enough to anyone that it's not representing a real clade of beetles, but still for people like me it would make more sense to use at least hypothetically realistic traits.


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