A hypothesis has been advanced recently predicting that, in evolution, as higher-level entities arise from associations of lower-level organisms, and as these entities acquire the ability to feed, reproduce, defend themselves, and so on, the lower-level organisms will tend to lose much of their internal complexity (McShea 2001a). In other words, in hierarchical transitions, there is a drain on numbers of part types at the lower level. One possible rationale is that the transfer of functional demands to the higher level renders many part types at the lower level useless, and thus their loss in evolution is favored by selection for economy. Here, a test is conducted at the cell level, comparing numbers of part types in free-living eukaryotic cells (protists) and the cells of metazoans and land plants. Differences are significant and consistent with the hypothesis, suggesting that tests at other hierarchical levels may be worthwhile.
Corresponding Editor: M. Foote