A theoretical approach to the analysis of historical factors (Raup 1972) in evolutionary morphology is presented which addresses transformational hypotheses about structural systems. This (structural) approach to testing historical hypotheses about phylogenetic constraints on form and function and structural and functional versatility involves (1) the reconstruction of nested sets of structural features in monophyletic taxa, (2) the use of general or emergent organizational properties of structural and functional systems (as opposed to uniquely derived morphological features), and (3) the comparative examination of the consequences for structural and functional diversity of these general features in related monophyletic taxa.
Three examples of emergent organizational properties are considered: structural complexity, repetition of parts, and the decoupling of primitively constrained systems. Two classes of hypotheses about the evolution of design are proposed. Transformational hypotheses concern historical pathways of change in form as a consequence of general organizational features which are primitive for a lineage. Relational hypotheses involve correlations between structure-function networks primitive for a clade and morphological diversity both between and within terminal taxa. To the extent that transformational and relational hypotheses about form are corroborated, they provide evidence of underlying regularity in the transformation of organic design that may be a consequence of the hierarchical organization of structural and functional patterns in organisms.