Understanding how complex organisms function as integrated units that constantly interact with their environment is a long-standing challenge in biology. To address this challenge, organismal biology reveals general organizing principles of physiological systems and behavior—in particular, in complex multicellular animals. Organismal biology also focuses on the role of individual variability in the evolutionary maintenance of diversity. To broadly advance these frontiers, cross-compatibility of experimental designs, methodological approaches, and data interpretation pipelines represents a key prerequisite. It is now possible to rapidly and systematically analyze complete genomes to elucidate genetic variation associated with traits and conditions that define individuals, populations, and species. However, genetic variation alone does not explain the varied individual physiology and behavior of complex organisms. We propose that such emergent properties of complex organisms can best be explained through a renewed emphasis on the context and life-history dependence of individual phenotypes to complement genetic data.
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Vol. 63 • No. 6