Understanding the evolutionary processes responsible for the long treks through morphospace associated with the origin of new higher taxa is hampered by the lack of a realistic and usable model that accounts for long-term phenotypic evolvability. The systems-related concept of correlated progression, in which all the traits are functionally linked and so constrained to evolve by small increments at a time in parallel with each other, provides the basis for such a model. Implications for the process of evolution at high taxonomic level are that: the evolving traits must be considered together as a system, and the exact sequence of incremental changes in characters is indeterminable; there are no identifiable key innovations; selection acts on the phenotype as a whole rather than on individual traits; and the selection force is therefore multidimensional. Application of the model to the pattern of evolution of traits and trait states as revealed by the fossil record of the stem groups of such taxa as mammals, turtles and tetrapods generates realistic testable hypotheses about how such groups evolved.
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