Animals display extensive diversity in motifs adorning their coat, yet these patterns have reproducible orientation and periodicity within species or groups. Morphological variation has been traditionally used to dissect the genetic basis of evolutionary change, while pattern conservation and stability in both mathematical and organismal models has served to identify core developmental events. Two patterning theories, namely instruction and self-organisation, emerged from this work. Combined, they provide an appealing explanation for how natural patterns form and evolve, but in vivo factors underlying these mechanisms remain elusive. By bridging developmental biology and mathematics, novel frameworks recently allowed breakthroughs in our understanding of pattern establishment, unveiling how patterning strategies combine in space and time, or the importance of tissue morphogenesis in generating positional information. Adding results from surveys of natural variation to these empirical-modelling dialogues improves model inference, analysis, and in vivo testing. In this evo-devo-numerical synthesis, mathematical models have to reproduce not only given stable patterns but also the dynamics of their emergence, and the extent of inter-species variation in these dynamics through minimal parameter change. This integrative approach can help in disentangling molecular, cellular and mechanical interaction during pattern establishment.
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License
which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited