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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


Chapter 10 Notes

Diversification of Plants and Animals

The Flow of the Evolution of Life-Forms

A review of diversity through time and the basis for its estimation is provided by Benton and Emerson (2007) and issues of biodiversity on the present earth are discussed by Wilson (2002).

The data for the simplified geological timescale presented in Figure 10.1 came mainly from Gradstein et al. (2004). A modern account of the development of the geological time scale and the measurement of the age of the Earth is provided by Wyse Jackson (2006).

For a series of essays synthesizing major aspects of macroevolution, see Briggs and Crowther (2001).

The Nature and Importance of Data from the Fossil Record

The quality of the fossil record through time is analyzed by Benton et al. (2000).

The classic paper on the importance of fossils in reconstructing phylogeny is by Donoghue et al. (1989). The tetrapod example that shows how the placement of Mammalia relies on data from fossils is analyzed in Gauthier et al. (1988). The arguments are summarized in Smith (1994).

Plate Tectonics Affects the Distribution of Animals and Plants and Generates Barriers That Lead to Diversification

A detailed summary of Nothofagus as an example of biogeographical patterns is presented in Hill (2001; see also Hill and Dettmann 1996).

The First Multicellular Animals Appear in the Neoproterozoic

The distribution and significance of early fossil embryos are reviewed in Donoghue and Dong (2005). The classic discovery report on the Doushantou Formation is by Xiao et al. (1998; see also Xiao and Knoll 2000). Donoghue et al. (2006) present data on biases in the fossil record of embryos that favor particular taxa and intervals of geologic time.

The Earliest Large Organisms Are the Ediacara Forms

The fossil record of the Ediacaran forms is reviewed by Narbonne (2005). Seilacher’s vendobiont hypothesis is explained in his 1992 paper and his assignment of some of the Ediacaran fossils to giant protists is argued in Seilacher et al. (2003). An example of the assignment of an Ediacaran organism to a familiar group (Kimberella is mollusk-like) is provided by Fedonkin and Waggoner (1997).

The Appearance of Shells Transforms the Nature of the Fossil Record

The origin and early evolution of mineralized skeletons is reviewed by Bengtson (2005). Evidence of drilling predation on the Late Precambrian tubelike Cloudina was described by Bengtson and Zhao (1992). The biomineralized metazoan Namapoikia was described by Wood et al. (2002). The calcified goblet-like fossil Namacalathus is reconstructed by Grotzinger et al. (2000).

The Cambrian Explosion

There are well-illustrated treatments of the fossils of the Burgess Shale of British Columbia (Briggs et al. 1994) and the older Chengjiang fauna of China (Hou et al. 2004). The preservation of the fossils is described and interpreted by Orr et al. (1998) and Butterfield et al. (2007). The nature of the Cambrian radiation of animals is treated by many authors: notably, Peterson et al. (2005) and Briggs and Fortey (2005). The interrelationships of arthropods continue to be the focus of research using molecular sequence data (e.g., see Giribet et al. 2001; Mallatt et al. 2004; Regier et al. 2005), most supporting a derivation of hexapods from crustaceans, and a relationship between chelicerates and myriapods. The Chengjiang jawless fish Haikouicthys was described by Shu et al. (1999).

How Large Was the Cambrian Explosion?

Sepkoski’s now iconic plot of the diversity of life through time was first published in 1979 (see also Benton and Emerson 2007). Gould’s thesis on the nature of the Cambrian explosion and the significance of the Burgess Shale is formulated in his highly successful book Wonderful Life (Gould 1989). His concept of disparity and its significance is expanded in Gould (1991). Alternative models for the distribution of disparity through time are reviewed by Wills and Fortey (2000).

The Timing of the Cambrian Explosion

Molecular evidence for Precambrian origins of the major animal groups is described by Peterson et al. (2005), who also review possible triggers for the Cambrian explosion.

Cambrian Life Was Confined Mainly to the Sea, but There Is Some Evidence That the First Steps onto Land Were Taken by the End of This Period

Evidence for the colonization of land by animals during the Paleozoic is summarized by Selden (2001). The earliest evidence for large arthropods on land is provided by trackways preserved on dune sands in southeastern Ontario, Canada (MacNaughton et al. 2002). The oldest known oribatid mite was reported by Bernini et al. (2002). The earliest fossil that preserves unequivocal evidence of air breathing was described by Wilson and Anderson (2004). The earliest trigonotarbids (extinct spider-like animals) are known from the Silurian of Shropshire, United Kingdom (Jeram et al. 1990).

The Next 500 Million Years—Life since the Cambrian Period

The Ordovician and Silurian Witnessed the Greening of the Landscape

The colonization of land by plants is reviewed by Willis and McElwain (2002). The remarkable fossils of the Rhynie Chert are illustrated and reviewed in Chapter 5 of Selden and Nudds (2004) and at this Web site maintained by the University of Aberdeen. The giant Carboniferous myriapod is reconstructed making a trackway discovered in New Brunswick, Canada, in Briggs et al. (1984).

Vertebrates Moved onto Land

Coates (2001) summarizes the origin and early evolution of tetrapods, a topic that is the subject of a book-length treatment by Clack (2002). The transition from fish to tetrapod is illuminated by the discovery of a tetrapod-like fish Tiktaalik roseae from the Devonian of Arctic Canada (Daeschler et al. 2006).

Arthropods and Vertebrates Evolved the Ability to Fly

Rhyniognatha (which is only partly known) from the Devonian Rhynie Chert was interpreted as a true insect, sharing characters with winged examples, by Engel and Grimaldi (2004; summarized in Grimaldi and Engel 2005). The evolution of flight in insects is comprehensively treated in Chapter 6 of Grimaldi and Engel (2005).

Quetzalcoatlus was discovered in late Cretaceous rocks near Big Bend in western Texas in the early 1970s. With a wingspan reaching a maximum of nearly 40 feet, it is the largest flying creature ever to have evolved (Langston 1981). There is an extensive literature on Archaeopteryx even though only ten skeletal specimens (and one feather) are known. The most recently discovered specimen is held by the Wyoming Dinosaur Center, Thermopolis, United States, and was described by Mayr et al. (2005, 2007). The four-winged dinosaur Microraptor was described by Xu et al. (2003), but there has been some debate about its relevance to the origin of flapping flight (e.g., see Padian and Dial 2005).

The earliest bat from the Eocene Green River Formation of Wyoming was described by Jepsen (1966). The morphology (including the structure of the ear) and ecology of the bats from the Messel Oil Shale are reviewed by Habersetzer et al. (1992).

Patterns of Evolution

The Fossil Record Provides Evidence of the Pattern of the Diversity of Life through Time

The calibration of biodiversity today and through geological time is reviewed by Benton (2001; see also Benton and Emerson 2007). The theory of punctuated equilibria was first formulated by Eldredge and Gould in 1972. The fossil evidence for punctuated equilibria versus phyletic gradualism has been considered by many workers (see reviews by Fortey 1985, 1988). Gould’s own detailed commentary on the debate can be found in Chapter 9 of his major book The Structure of Evolutionary Theory (2002). The pattern of diversification of plants was calibrated by Niklas et al. (1983, 1985) and is discussed by Willis and McElwain (2002). Benton (2001) integrates tetrapods into the story.


Taylor (2004) consists of chapters on major topics relating to extinctions and their role in the history of life. For a series of essays on the major mass extinction events, see Briggs and Crowther (2001). Possible causes of the largest extinction of all, the end Permian, are reviewed by Benton and Twitchett (2003). The end Permian extinction has been the subject of book-length treatments, most notably by Benton (2003) and Erwin (2006). The impact of mass extinctions on survival and recovery is not random; there is good evidence of selectivity (McKinney 1997, 2001).

The three great marine evolutionary faunas, Cambrian, Paleozoic, and Modern, were identified by Sepkoski (1984). There is an enormous literature on the Cretaceous-Tertiary extinction. A synthesis of its impact on marine and terrestrial life is presented in two essays in Briggs and Crowther (2001). Walter Alvarez (1997) wrote his own account of the discovery of the layer of iridium that revealed that an impact had taken place and the subsequent research on the event.

Modern Extinctions

The reality of global warming and its potentially disastrous consequences for the biosphere are considered by Hansen (2004). Archer (2007) explains the science behind the problem. The impact of climate change on biodiversity is described in a compilation of papers assembled by Lovejoy and Hannah (2005).


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