Heterochrony is a general term used to describe evolutionary changes in the timing of development. Heterochrony can produce subtle differences between organisms (such as the advance or delay in the appearance of structures) or huge differences (such as the evolution of a direct-developing salamander that lacks a larval stage from an ancestor that has a tadpole stage in its lifecycle). Many of the changes in development that are important to the evolutionary process are thought to occur through heterochronic processes.
Two major categories of heterochrony that occur during evolution are neoteny and progenesis. Both neoteny and progenesis are a result of the retardation of development such that the adult descendant resembles a juvenile of the ancestor. Neoteny refers to the general retardation of development, whereas progenesis refers to the truncation of development caused by the precocious onset of sexual maturation. Humans are thought to have evolved by neoteny, as many features of human adults appear to be retained juvenile characteristics of their primate ancestors.
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