The ecology and evolution of key innovations

Aryeh H. Miller, James T. Stroud, Jonathan B. Losos

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


The idea of ‘key innovations’ has long been influential in theoretical and empirical approaches to understanding adaptive diversification. Despite originally revolving around traits inducing major ecological shifts, the key innovation concept itself has evolved, conflating lineage diversification with trait-dependent ecological shifts. In this opinion article we synthesize the history of the term, clarify the relationship between key innovations and adaptive radiation, and propose a return to the original concept of key innovations: the evolution of organismal features which permit a species to occupy a previously inaccessible ecological state. Ultimately, we suggest an integrative approach to studying key innovations, necessitating experimental approaches of form and function, natural history studies of resource use, and phylogenetic comparative perspectives.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)122-131
Number of pages10
JournalTrends in Ecology and Evolution
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2023


  • adaptation
  • adaptive radiation
  • behavior
  • experimental biology
  • macroevolution


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