Structure versus time in the evolutionary diversification of avian carotenoid metabolic networks

Erin S. Morrison, Alexander V. Badyaev

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Historical associations of genes and proteins are thought to delineate pathways available to subsequent evolution; however, the effects of past functional involvements on contemporary evolution are rarely quantified. Here, we examined the extent to which the structure of a carotenoid enzymatic network persists in avian evolution. Specifically, we tested whether the evolution of carotenoid networks was most concordant with phylogenetically structured expansion from core reactions of common ancestors or with subsampling of biochemical pathway modules from an ancestral network. We compared structural and historical associations in 467 carotenoid networks of extant and ancestral species and uncovered the overwhelming effect of pre-existing metabolic network structure on carotenoid diversification over the last 50 million years of avian evolution. Over evolutionary time, birds repeatedly subsampled and recombined conserved biochemical modules, which likely maintained the overall structure of the carotenoid metabolic network during avian evolution. These findings explain the recurrent convergence of evolutionary distant species in carotenoid metabolism and weak phylogenetic signal in avian carotenoid evolution. Remarkable retention of an ancient metabolic structure throughout extensive and prolonged ecological diversification in avian carotenoid metabolism illustrates a fundamental requirement of organismal evolution – historical continuity of a deterministic network that links past and present functional associations of its components.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)764-772
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Evolutionary Biology
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2018


  • functional module
  • metabolic network evolution
  • modularity
  • network structure

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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