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The Origin of Higher Taxa

Palaeobiological, Developmental, and Ecological Perspectives

The Origin of Higher Taxa

Palaeobiological, Developmental, and Ecological Perspectives

In the grand sweep of evolution, the origin of radically new kinds of organisms in the fossil record is the result of a relatively simple process: natural selection marching through the ages. Or is it? Does Darwinian evolution acting over a sufficiently long period of time really offer a complete explanation, or are unusual genetic events and particular environmental and ecological circumstances also involved? With The Origin of Higher Taxa, Tom Kemp sifts through the layers of paleobiological, genetic, and ecological evidence on a quest to answer this essential, game-changing question of biology.

Looking beyond the microevolutionary force of Darwinian natural selection, Kemp enters the realm of macroevolution, or evolution above the species level. From the origin of mammals to the radiation of flowering plants, these large-scale patterns—such as the rise of novel organismal design, adaptive radiations, and lineage extinctions—encompass the most significant trends and transformations in evolution. As macroevolution cannot be studied by direct observation and experiment, scientists have to rely on the outcome of evolution as evidence for the processes at work, in the form of patterns of species appearances and extinctions in a spotty fossil record, and through the nature of species extant today. Marshalling a wealth of new fossil and molecular evidence and increasingly sophisticated techniques for their study, Kemp here offers a timely and original reinterpretation of how higher taxa such as arthropods, mollusks, mammals, birds, and whales evolved—a bold new take on the history of life.

320 pages | 25 halftones, 75 line drawings | © 2015

Biological Sciences: Ecology, Evolutionary Biology, Paleobiology, Geology, and Paleontology


“In his new book, The Origin of Higher Taxa, Kemp . . . provides an insightful and articulate defense of the importance of higher taxa as an evolutionary problem, and expands upon his theory of correlated progression as the responsible mechanism. In the sciences, a phenomenon must be real to be studied (well, it helps anyway, except perhaps in physics), and Kemp’s defense of higher taxa as real ontological entities is based on the idea that extinction separates evolutionary lineages into discrete morphological groups. The clumpy nature of morphologies is indeed one of the major challenges for evolutionary biology.”

Douglas H. Erwin, National Museum of Natural History | Systematic Biology

“I very much enjoyed reading it. The language flows nicely, the structure works well, and the length is, in my view, about right. The question that Kemp grapples with is of the utmost importance. The correlated progression model is clearly articulated and the lack of discord between it and the data is noted—though of course this falls short of confirming the model. Right from the start the book lures the reader in.”

Wallace Arthur, National University of Ireland, Galway | Evolution & Development

“Kemp’s book provides much to think about, ideas and models linking palaeobiology and evo-devo genomics. He does not explore phylogenetic comparative approaches to macroevolution which have the advantage of providing numerical approaches that are available now and that can be tested. His book could be criticized for being too open-ended and hypothetical, but then such deeply considered, thoughtful syntheses can provide the materials to construct numerical models for testing. This is the role of Kemp’s book, and it has the advantage of being written lucidly and in a style any graduate student could follow.”

Michael J. Benton, University of Bristol | Trends in Ecology & Evolution

Table of Contents

1 Introduction
1.1 The question
1.2 The context
1.3 The available evidence
1.4 Synthesis

2 The nature of higher taxa
2.1 The Linnean hierarchy, the phylocode, and higher taxa
2.2 Disparity and morphospace: a phenotypic view of higher taxa
2.3 The adaptive landscape: an ecological view of higher taxa
2.4 Molecular taxonomy and higher taxa
2.5 The pattern of evolution of higher taxa
2.6 Conclusion: are higher taxa real?

3 The nature of organisms
3.1 The atomistic model
3.1.1 Limitations of the atomistic model
3.2 The modularity model
3.2.1 Evidence for the reality of the modularity model
3.2.2 The implications of the modularity model for evolution
3.2.3 The limitations of the modularity model
3.3 The correlated progression model
3.3.1 Implications of the correlated progression model for evolution
3.3.2 Evidence for the correlated progression model
3.4 Conclusion

4 The palaeontological evidence
4.1 Fossils, phylogeny, and ancestry
4.1.1 Incompleteness
4.1.2 Phylogeny
4.1.3 Fossils and molecules
4.2 Functional anatomy and physiology of fossils
4.3 Palaeoenvironmental and palaeoecological reconstruction

5 The developmental evidence
5.1 A brief history
5.2 Ancestral stages and the pattern of character acquisition inferred from embryos
5.2.1 Recapitulation
5.2.2 Heterochrony
5.2.3 Heterotopy
5.2.4 Allometry, miniaturization, and gigantism
5.3 Developmental mechanisms for the maintenance of phenotypic integration
5.3.1 Embryonic cellular and tissue interactions
5.3.2 The role of molecular genetic mechanisms
5.3.3 Phenotypic plasticity
5.4 Summary

6 The ecological perspective
6.1 The correlated progression model and adaptive landscapes
6.2 Multidimensional gradients in the adaptive landscape
6.3 Case studies: aquatic to terrestrial habitats
6.4 Case studies: low-energy to high-energy life styles
6.5 Case studies: the origin of modern invertebrate body plans

7 The invertebrate fossil record
7.1 The phylogenetic tree of crown invertebrate phyla
7.2 The Cambrian explosion
7.3 Lophotrochozoa: Mollusca
7.3.1 Kimberella
7.3.2 Odontogriphus
7.3.3 Halkieria, Wiwaxia, and Orthrozanclus: Halwaxiidae
7.3.4 Crown Mollusca
7.4 Ecdysozoa: Arthropoda
7.4.1 Opabinia
7.4.2 Anomalocaridida (Radiodonta)
7.4.3 Nereocaris, Canadaspis, and other bivalved arthropods
7.4.4 Fuxianhuids: Chengjiangocaris, Fuxianhuia, and Shankouia
7.4.5 Megacheirans
7.4.6 Conclusion: the evolution of arthropod characters
7.5 Deuterostomia
7.5.1 Vetulicolia: possible stem-group deuterostomes
7.5.2 Cambroernids: possible stem-group ambulacrians
7.5.3 Vetulocystids: possible stem-group echinoderms
7.5.4 Carpoids: the asymmetric echinoderms
7.5.5 Crown Echinodermata
7.5.6 Yunnanozoons: possible stem-group chordates
7.5.7 Pikaea: possible stem-group chordate
7.5.8 Conodonts: possible stem-group vertebrates
7.5.9 Myllokunmingia, Haikouichthys, and Metaspriggina: stem-group vertebrates
8 The vertebrate fossil record 
8.1 Mammals
8.1.1 The grades of fossil stem mammals
8.1.2 The origin of the mammalian body plan
8.1.3 The pattern of evolution of mammalian characters
8.2 Birds
8.2.1 The grades of fossil stem birds
8.2.2 The origin of the avian body plan
8.2.3 The pattern of acquisition of avian characters
8.3 Tetrapods
8.3.1 The grades of fossil stem tetrapods
8.3.2 The pattern of acquisition of tetrapod characters
8.4 Turtles
8.4.1 The grades of fossil stem chelonians
8.4.2 The pattern of acquisition of chelonian characters
8.5 Cetacea
8.5.1 The grades of fossil stem cetaceans
8.5.2 The pattern of acquisition of cetacean characters

9 A synthesis
9.1 The nature of palaeobiological explanation
9.1.1 Combining the evidence
9.1.2 Missing and conflicting evidence
9.1.3 Evaluating palaeobiological hypotheses
9.1.4 It may be true but is it science?
9.2 A summary of the evidence
9.2.1 Evidence from the nature of living organisms
9.2.2 Evidence from computer simulations of the evolution of complex systems
9.2.3 Evidence from the fossil record
9.2.4 Evidence from developmental biology
9.2.5 Evidence from ecology
9.3 Conclusion: a general picture of the origin of higher taxa



Royal Society of Biology: Royal Society Postgraduate Textbook Prize

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