Working Paper Review Version 1 This version is not peer-reviewed

Multi-Level Convergence of Complex Traits and the Evolution of Bioluminescence

Version 1 : Received: 10 July 2020 / Approved: 11 July 2020 / Online: 11 July 2020 (16:01:36 CEST)
Version 2 : Received: 13 December 2020 / Approved: 15 December 2020 / Online: 15 December 2020 (10:20:12 CET)

A peer-reviewed article of this Preprint also exists.

Journal reference: Biological Reviews 2020
DOI: 10.1111/brv.12672


Evolutionary convergence provides natural opportunities to investigate how, when, and why complex traits evolve. The complexity of convergent traits highlights the importance of explicitly considering convergence on different levels of biological organization, or “multi-level convergent evolution”. In order to extend this approach from studying convergence to an integrative workflow for studying complex trait evolution, we propose a holistic and hierarchical framework, which emphasizes breaking down the traits to several functional modules to investigate multi-level convergent evolution. We begin this review by identifying long-standing questions on the origins of complexity and the mechanisms underlying phenotypic convergence to discuss how their research can be enhanced by examining convergent systems. We argue that bioluminescence, a complex trait that evolved dozens of times through either novel mechanisms or conserved toolkits, is particularly well-suited for these studies. We present an updated estimate of at least 84 independent origins of bioluminescence across the tree of life, which was calculated by improving the taxon sampling in cnidarians, fishes, and cephalopods. Then, we use the presented framework to review the biology, chemistry, and evolution of bioluminescence, and for each biological level, identify questions that arise after our systematic review. We focus on luminous organisms that use the shared luciferin substrates coelenterazine or vargulin to produce light because these organisms convergently evolved bioluminescent proteins that use the same luciferins to produce bioluminescence. Lastly, we highlight promising avenues for developing bioluminescence as a model system for studying multi-level convergent evolution.


multi-level convergence; evolution; bioluminescence; biological organization; complex trait



Comments (0)

We encourage comments and feedback from a broad range of readers. See criteria for comments and our diversity statement.

Leave a public comment
Send a private comment to the author(s)
Views 0
Downloads 0
Comments 0
Metrics 0

Notify me about updates to this article or when a peer-reviewed version is published.
We use cookies on our website to ensure you get the best experience.
Read more about our cookies here.