The adeno-associated virus (AAV) vector is a preferred delivery platform for in vivo gene therapy. Natural and engineered variations of the AAV capsid affect a plurality of phenotypes relevant to gene therapy, including vector production and host tropism. Fundamental to these aspects is the mechanism of AAV capsid assembly. Here, the role of the viral co-factor assembly-activating protein (AAP) was evaluated in 12 naturally occurring AAVs and 9 putative ancestral capsid intermediates. The results demonstrate increased capsid protein stability and VP-VP interactions in the presence of AAP. The capsid's dependence on AAP can be partly overcome by strengthening interactions between monomers within the assembly, as illustrated by the transfer of a minimal motif defined by a phenotype-to-phylogeny mapping method. These findings suggest that the emergence of AAP within the Dependovirus genus relaxes structural constraints on AAV assembly in favor of increasing the degrees of freedom for the capsid to evolve.