Behavioral and Brain Sciences

Short Communication

Use of phylogenetic analysis to distinguish adaptation from exaptation

Daniel G. Blackburn a1
a1 Department of Biology, Life Sciences Center, Trinity College, Hartford, CT 06106


One important difference between adaptive and nonadaptive explanations can be found in the evolutionary sequence of structural and functional modifications. Phylogenetic analysis (cladistics) provides a powerful methodology for distinguishing exaptation from adaptation, by indicating whether character traits have predated, accompanied, or followed evolution of particular functions. Such analysis yields falsifiable hypotheses that can help to distinguish causal relationships from mere correlation.