The study of evolutionary development (evo-devo) is frequently challenged by the scales of space and time complexity inherent to its study. This has led to the creation of abstract models to allow for the exploration of evo-devo in a manner that is both more computationally feasible and more general, without ties to the specific biological processes of a single organism. Our work expands upon these previous models by introducing an indirect encoding for developmental mechanisms, dynamic fitness landscapes, and a phenotypic structure that allows for the exploration of new interactions between the developmental and evolutionary processes. Introducing these changes allows us to conduct a more thorough study of factors impacting evo-devo. Our experimental results suggest a number of parallels to biological systems. These include representing the synergy of evolutionary and developmental processes, the evolution of adaptable features, and highly conserved regulatory genes. We also discuss the opportunities for exploration opened by this new model. These possibilities include the study of developmental exaptations and the robustness of developmental strategies.
These authors contributed equally to this work