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Evolution: The Molecular Landscape

Cold Spring Harbor’s 74th Symposium
The Molecular Landscape
Edited by Bruce Stillman,
David Stewart, and
Jan Witkowski,
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory


Evolution Chapter 10 Discussion Questions

DQ 10.1

Why does the nature and completeness of the fossil record vary between and within taxa?

DQ 10.2

Does the completeness (“quality”) of the fossil record impact the reliability of patterns of biodiversity through time, such as those depicted in Figures 10.19, 10.35, and 10.36? If so, how? (See Benton et al. 2000.)

DQ 10.3

Explain how the changing configuration of plates on the surface of the Earth influenced the diversity of life at different times on the planet.

DQ 10.4

Discuss the potential of the discovery of fossilized embryos in rocks of Neoproterozoic and Cambrian age to illuminate the origin and evolution of the major invertebrate groups. (Chapter 11 provides background information on the evolution of developmental programs.)

DQ 10.5

The Ediacaran fossils represent some of the earliest large organisms on Earth. What do they reveal about the early evolution of animals?

DQ 10.6

What is a phylum?

DQ 10.7

In what sense did life “explode” in the Cambrian? What triggered the rapid radiation of animal life?

DQ 10.8

What controlled the timing of the diversification of life on land? Why were some phyla more successful in this new setting than others?

DQ 10.9

Describe the major adaptations evolved by early land plants that equipped them for life independent of water.

DQ 10.10

Consider the impact of global warming and other anthropogenic agents on the future diversity of life on Earth. How can the fossil record help us to predict the consequences of future climate change?

DQ 10.11

Clearly selection pressure will not result in organisms that are better equipped to avoid agents of mass extinction such as the major asteroid impact at the end of the Cretaceous. Yet there is increasing evidence that mass extinctions are selective even though they follow different rules to “background” extinction. What characteristics of lineages or clades might make them more or less likely to survive a mass extinction? (See McKinney 1997, 2001; this question is also addressed, for example, in Chapter 12 of Gould 2002, and in Jablonski’s contribution to Taylor 2004.)


Benton M.J., Wills M.A., and Hitchin R. 2000. Quality of the fossil record through time. Nature 403: 534–537.

Gould S.J. 2002. The structure of evolutionary theory. Belknap Press, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts and London.

McKinney M.L. 1997. Extinction vulnerability and selectivity: Combining ecological and paleontological views. Annu. Rev. Ecol. Syst. 28: 495–516.

McKinney M.L. 2001. Biotic recovery from mass extinctions. In Palaeobiology II (ed. D.E.G. Briggs and P.R. Crowther), pp. 202–206. Blackwell Science, Oxford.

Taylor P.D., ed. 2004. Extinctions in the history of life. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.


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