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Great Transformations in Vertebrate Evolution

How did flying birds evolve from running dinosaurs, terrestrial trotting tetrapods evolve from swimming fish, and whales return to swim in the sea? These are some of the great transformations in the 500-million-year history of vertebrate life. And with the aid of new techniques and approaches across a range of fields—work spanning multiple levels of biological organization from DNA sequences to organs and the physiology and ecology of whole organisms—we are now beginning to unravel the confounding evolutionary mysteries contained in the structure, genes, and fossil record of every living species.

This book gathers a diverse team of renowned scientists to capture the excitement of these new discoveries in a collection that is both accessible to students and an important contribution to the future of its field. Marshaling a range of disciplines—from paleobiology to phylogenetics, developmental biology, ecology, and evolutionary biology—the contributors attack particular transformations in the head and neck, trunk, appendages such as fins and limbs, and the whole body, as well as offer synthetic perspectives. Illustrated throughout, Great Transformations in Vertebrate Evolution not only reveals the true origins of whales with legs, fish with elbows, wrists, and necks, and feathered dinosaurs, but also the relevance to our lives today of these extraordinary narratives of change.

424 pages | 68 color plates, 62 halftones, 14 line drawings, 12 tables | 8 1/2 x 11 | © 2015

Biological Sciences: Biology--Systematics, Evolutionary Biology, Natural History, Paleobiology, Geology, and Paleontology


“A broad yet in-depth look at some of the most radical and fascinating changes in vertebrate anatomy and biology over the course of their evolutionary history. With contributions from 35 authors, this book greatly benefits from a range of expertise and many years of scientific research. . . . Great Transformations is an engaging and thorough book explaining not only what we know about vertebrate evolution, but, perhaps more importantly, the evidence behind what we know.”

Jordan Bestwick, University of Leicester | Palaeontology Newsletter

Great Transformations in Vertebrate Evolution is a timely landmark work that presents new intellectual and methodological grounds to unravel long-standing questions in the evolution of vertebrates. I highly recommend this excellent volume to all who have been enchanted by the mysterious beauty of our vertebrate history.”

Martin Kundrát, Comenius University, Slovakia | Systematic Biology

“Those who have taken a course in comparative anatomy might be forgiven for thinking that the evolution of tetrapods has been well understood for a long time. Textbooks confidently detail the saga of the change from fish to modern mammals, birds, and reptiles, with seemingly few gaps in the story. However, as this volume points out, there are still missing pieces in scientific knowledge, and much of what is known was discovered only recently. . . . This very valuable work would make an excellent text for an upper-level undergraduate or graduate course in vertebrate evolution. . . . Essential.”

J. L. Hunt, University of Arkansas-Monticello | Choice

“In this volume, the editors showcase a comprehensive and impressive series of studies that address some of the most curious and classic questions in evolutionary biology. . . . One of the most ubiquitous and unique themes from this selection of studies is the value of interdisciplinary science. The message to students as well as to senior scientists is this: learn to look at life—its origins and transformations of the past and present—in ways unimagined. The space between methods, materials, discourses, and disciplines is the space that yields rich and rewarding insights into evolutionary biology. As the editors and authors remark, narratives such as the march from monkey to man or the transition from swimming in water to walking on land tell a tale of progression, linearity, and superiority. These narratives can dominate and dictate how scientists interpret the past. Great Transformations in Vertebrate Evolution is a challenge to those narratives and chapter after chapter reveals that life is not linear but full of unpredictable episodes of convergence, reversal to ancestral states, and much more intricate pictures of the patterns and processes of evolution. . . . This book demonstrates that great transformations in vertebrate evolution come from great transformations in the ability of scientists to adopt new evidence and adapt to new approaches.”

Quarterly Review of Biology

“A well-crafted, intelligent, and probing series of papers by leading experts addressing the latest advances in the big transformations in our evolutionary history. This book will enthral anyone interested in learning about the big changes in our deep, distant evolution from fishes to land animals, the origins of reptiles, birds, and mammals, and how cutting-edge multidisciplinary approaches are used to solve evolutionary problems.”

John A. Long, president of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology, vice president of the Royal Society of South Australia | author of "The Dawn of the Deed: The Prehistoric Origins of Sex"

“This book honors the great Farish A. Jenkins Jr., who studied macroevolutionary transitions in vertebrates by combining a wealth of data from fossils, dissections, experimental analyses of behavior, evolutionary data, and more to reconstruct major changes in form and function, with a strong biological focus. Jenkins was so innovative, so big-question-oriented, and so influential that a book dedicated to him and the kinds of questions in which he was interested is not just appropriate, but essential. The book is timely, summarizing and giving new perspectives on the greatest transitions in vertebrate evolution. The questions are huge. The authors are simply the best in the field. A landmark work from a star-studded cast of scientists.”

John Hutchinson, Royal Veterinary College, University of London

“This book will be of broad general interest to vertebrate biologists, indispensable for vertebrate functional and evolutionary morphologists, and essential reading for the next generation of vertebrate organismal biologists. The editors have done an enormous service to the field by collecting these thorough, incisive papers. One feels extremely invigorated and excited about what might be done next. Great Transformations will exert a strong impact on research agendas.”

Michael Alfaro, University of California, Los Angeles

Table of Contents


Part I Origins and Transformations

1 Origin of the Vertebrate Dentition: Teeth Transform Jaws into a Biting Force
Moya Meredith Smith and Zerina Johanson
2 Flexible Fins and Fin Rays as Key Transformations in Ray-Finned Fishes
George V. Lauder
3 Major Transformations in Vertebrate Breathing Mechanisms
Elizabeth L. Brainerd
4 Origin of the Tetrapod Neck and Shoulder
Neil Shubin, Edward B. Daeschler, and Farish A. Jenkins Jr.
5 Origin of the Turtle Body Plan
Ann Campbell Burke
6 Anatomical Transformations and Respiratory Innovations of the Archosaur Trunk
Leon Claessens
7 Evolution of Hind Limb Posture in Triassic Archosauriforms
Corwin Sullivan
8 Fossils, Trackways, and Transitions in Locomotion: A Case Study of Dimetrodon
James A. Hopson
9 Respiratory Turbinates and the Evolution of Endothermy
in Mammals and Birds
Tomasz Owerkowicz, Catherine Musinsky, Kevin M. Middleton, and A. W. Crompton
10 Origin of the Mammalian Shoulder
Zhe-Xi Luo
11 Evolution of the Mammalian Nose
A.W. Crompton, Catherine Musinsky, and Tomasz Owerkowicz
12 Placental Evolution in Therian Mammals
Kathleen K. Smith
13 Going from Small to Large: Mechanical Implications of Body Size Diversity in Terrestrial Mammals
Andrew A. Biewener
14 Evolution of Whales from Land to Sea
Philip D. Gingerich
15 Major Transformations in the Evolution of Primate Locomotion
John G. Fleagle and Daniel E. Lieberman

Part II Perspectives and Approaches

16 Ontogenetic and Evolutionary Transformations: Ecological Significance of Rudimentary Structures
Kenneth P. Dial, Ashley M. Heers, and Terry R. Dial
17 Skeletons in Motion: An Animator’s Perspective on Vertebrate Evolution
Stephen M. Gatesy and David B. Baier
18 Developmental Mechanisms of Morphological Transitions: Examples from Archosaurian Evolution
Arhat Abzhanov
19 Microevolution and the Genetic Basis of Vertebrate Diversity: Examples from Teleost Fishes
Sydney A. Stringham and Michael D. Shapiro
20 The Age of Transformation: The Triassic Period and the Rise of Today's Land Vertebrate Fauna
Kevin Padian and Hans-Dieter Sues
21 How Do Homoplasies Arise? Origin and Maintenance of Reproductive Modes in Amphibians
Marvalee H. Wake
22 Rampant Homoplasy in Complex Characters: Repetitive Convergent Evolution of Amphibian Feeding Structures
David B. Wake, David C. Blackburn, and R. Eric Lombard



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