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The Evolutionary Biology of Plants Paperback – 7 Aug 1997


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Product details

  • Paperback: 470 pages
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press (7 Aug 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226580830
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226580838
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 3 x 22.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 766,515 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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From the Publisher

Book Reviews:
"This much-needed review of the evolution of plants from the origin of life on earth to the most advanced flowering plants is more than a textbook. As a paleobotanist, Niklas has provided an excellent insight into the history of the plant kingdom, but the text is brought to life through many fascinating facts about living plants, by molecular and genetic information, and by a balanced review of such topics as the species concept and of cladistic methods." – Sir Ghillean Prance, Director, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

"This book conveys a brilliant, up-to-date vision of evolutionary plant biology. Every biologist, from the student to the experienced specialist, should profit from its fresh outlook." - Peter Endress, Institute of Systematic Botany, University of Zürich

"Plant biologists have in one sense been waiting many years for this book, and yet perhaps its real importance lies in the fact they did not realize it was coming." - Nature

"So well does the author explain as he goes along that The Evolutionary Biology of Plants should be accessible to all biologists and interested non-biologists. It is not easy reading, but the text is both authoritative and enjoyable." - Times Literary Supplement

"Those interested in the evolution of plant life, and in evolution in general, will certainly find this work insightful and well worth reading." - American Scientist

"Karl Niklas, a brilliant student of evolutionary plant morphology, has presented a work that ties together the major themes of evolution in an impressive and extraordinarily useful synthesis." - Peter Raven, Director, Missouri Botanical Garden

"Niklas draws masterfully from population biology, physiology, mechanics, and paleontology in fashioning a distinctive perspective on plant evolution. Don;t read this book unless you want to think." - Andrew Knoll, Harvard University

"This book is very well written, especially current, thought provoking, and an excellent synthesis. Niklas not only highlights some of the major evolutionary innovations involving plants, but also presents a fresh, synthetic perspective on the role that both extant and fossil plants may play in interpreting evolution. The entire text can used by undergraduate students with minimal background in the biological sciences." - Thomas Taylor, University of Kansas


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Charles Darwin and Alfred Wallace did not originate the concept of adaptation, but they were the first to offer a coherent explanation for how organisms evolve the ability to cope with particular, often vastly different environments. Read the first page
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 7 April 1998
Format: Paperback
The rarity of up-to-date general surveys on this topic makes this a valuable book, but I think a better job could have been done. It starts out in a promising way, with an excellent introduction to the issues and problems of evolution from the perspective of plant biology, and I found this to be the most enlightening section of the book. The writing at that point is clear and purposeful. However, things start ramping down from there. Plant evolution is dealt with in a piecemeal fashion: certain topics, notably the author's own concern with the evolution of morphology, are treated at length; other, equally important, topics, e.g., symbioses, are skipped almost entirely (there is not a single word on the evolution of mycorrhizal or nitrogen-fixation symbiosis, and very little about the various angiosperm-insect symbioses). Interactions with diseases, parasites and herbivores are virtually ignored. This seriously detracts from the book's clear intent to sketch the "big picture" in plant evolution, and the author's increasingly complicated and disconnected prose does not help matters. But for someone thirsting for knowledge on plant evolution, the book provides plenty of things to think about, and the ample bibliography points the way to more.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 18 May 1999
Format: Paperback
A friend of mine told me about this book and said I had to read it. I am not a science student, but I found the book in my school library and read it anyway. It's a great book and I'm sure glad my friend told me about it. Plants are truly interesting, perhaps more so than animals because plants are so different from everything we are taught about in high school biology. Niklas's book is also well written. He speaks directly to the reader, using simple words to describe really complicated biological issues. Everything I always wondered about is found in this book. I've recommended it to my friends. I think everybody ought to know about the 'green world' that surrounds us!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 12 April 1999
Format: Paperback
The author has written an up to date and thoughtful book about evolution using plants as examples of all major ideas. This book should be read by any one interested in evolution or plant biology. The text is easy to read, with a minimum of jargon, and the book is well illustrated. I was especially interested in how the author combined information for the study of living plants with the information from the fossil record. This is one of the best books I've read in a long time. I recommend it highly.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 13 April 1999
Format: Paperback
I am a student of animal biology and this book was assigned by one of my professors as a textbook. I knew nothing about plants until I read this book, and I really dreaded the idea of having to learn about plants. Niklas's book opened my eyes to the wonder and fascination of plant biology as well as the wonders of plant evolution, which are very different from what most of us have been taught about animals. I've read this book from cover to cover, at least twice. And each time I've picked up something new and exciting to think about. All of my friends in the class agree with me - - this is a great book and people should pay attention to it.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 8 reviews
35 of 38 people found the following review helpful
A good start--but much is missing 7 April 1998
By Bill Perez - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
The rarity of up-to-date general surveys on this topic makes this a valuable book, but I think a better job could have been done. It starts out in a promising way, with an excellent introduction to the issues and problems of evolution from the perspective of plant biology, and I found this to be the most enlightening section of the book. The writing at that point is clear and purposeful. However, things start ramping down from there. Plant evolution is dealt with in a piecemeal fashion: certain topics, notably the author's own concern with the evolution of morphology, are treated at length; other, equally important, topics, e.g., symbioses, are skipped almost entirely (there is not a single word on the evolution of mycorrhizal or nitrogen-fixation symbiosis, and very little about the various angiosperm-insect symbioses). Interactions with diseases, parasites and herbivores are virtually ignored. This seriously detracts from the book's clear intent to sketch the "big picture" in plant evolution, and the author's increasingly complicated and disconnected prose does not help matters. But for someone thirsting for knowledge on plant evolution, the book provides plenty of things to think about, and the ample bibliography points the way to more.
19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
This is a fascinating and well written book �� a must read. 13 April 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I am a student of animal biology and this book was assigned by one of my professors as a textbook. I knew nothing about plants until I read this book, and I really dreaded the idea of having to learn about plants. Niklas's book opened my eyes to the wonder and fascination of plant biology as well as the wonders of plant evolution, which are very different from what most of us have been taught about animals. I've read this book from cover to cover, at least twice. And each time I've picked up something new and exciting to think about. All of my friends in the class agree with me - - this is a great book and people should pay attention to it.
21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
What a fantastic book - everything you always wanted to know 18 May 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
A friend of mine told me about this book and said I had to read it. I am not a science student, but I found the book in my school library and read it anyway. It's a great book and I'm sure glad my friend told me about it. Plants are truly interesting, perhaps more so than animals because plants are so different from everything we are taught about in high school biology. Niklas's book is also well written. He speaks directly to the reader, using simple words to describe really complicated biological issues. Everything I always wondered about is found in this book. I've recommended it to my friends. I think everybody ought to know about the 'green world' that surrounds us!
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Extremely detailed treatment 3 Mar 2007
By Dr. Lee D. Carlson - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
There are many natural questions that arise when considering the evolution of plants: Why did seeds evolve? How did the three separate genomes evolve in plants? How and why did plants evolve from aquatic habitats to terrestrial ones? Why do leafy plants have the leaf arrangements that they do? What is the average time scale needed for the evolution of a new plant species? What are the largest plant species that have yet evolved? How common is horizontal gene transfer in plants? What evolutionary advantages are there in pollination? From the standpoint of molecular biology, why do plants have the particular morphology that they do, as contrasted with other forms that seem plausible with respect to physical laws but do not occur? How extensive is the plant fossil record? Can the evolution of plants, indeed of living organisms in general, be simulated on a computing machine?

These questions, among many others, are addressed in this superbly written book, which despite being targeted towards readers with an advanced knowledge of botany can still be read by anyone curious about the subject matter. Unless the reader is an expert in evolutionary biology (which this reviewer is not), it would be difficult to assess the accuracy of the subject matter as compared to other works. The author does include however many references that can be consulted if readers find it necessary to gain more details on a particular topic. In addition to the quality of the writing, there are numerous diagrams and figures that illustrate the important principles. The inclusion of diagrams in any book on botany is of course a must, given the diversity of plant morphology. For readers with a background in modeling and simulation, the author includes a highly interesting discussion on how to simulate plant evolution by using computer-generated "adaptive walks" on "fitness landscapes". Simulations of course are not a replacement for sound and painstaking experimentation and scientific hypothesis building, but they can serve as a guide to understanding, at least in a general sense, of what is possible in biological evolution. In order to really appreciate the discussion on adaptive walks, the reader will need a fairly strong background in modeling and simulation, even though the discussion is purely descriptive, with no explicit mathematical formalism put down on paper.

The book is dense, being packed full of interesting information, demands the reader frequently back up and take pause so that the information can be assimilated more effectively. But the author's writing style is concise enough to keep the book at a manageable size. The different views on evolution, most of these coming down to the time scales over which changes are occurring, find their place in the book. The Darwinian view, which of course is the predominant one in the scientific community, is referred to as 'phyletic gradualism' in this book, and encapsulates the view that evolution is essentially an adaptive walk over a fitness landscape, driven by natural selection. One other view, called 'punctuated equilibrium', is at first glance a somewhat radical hypothesis, for it allows one to drop the requirement for intermediate phenotypes and view evolutionary change as "hopscotching" (in the author's words) from one fitness peak to another. The view of punctuated equilibrium is no doubt attractive to those who are wondering why the intermediate phenotypes are frequently missing observationally. Whichever of these viewpoints is closer to the truth, the wide variability in plants is quite amazing, over and above the case for other biological lifeforms in the opinion of the author. He refers to this as 'phenotypic plasticity' in the book, and alludes to the high rate of phenotypic innovation in some time periods. The concept of phenotypic plasticity is interesting for it allows a more quantitative measure of the degree to which changes are possible, i.e. a measurement of the impediments to evolutionary changes.

When contemplating the mechanisms of evolution it is easy to fall into the trap of believing that the morphology and functioning of an organism is the result of some sort of optimization process. The marvelous ingenuity of plants in dealing with their environments and their ingenious methods of reproduction sometimes begs for an explanation that is purposeful or goal-directed. There is no reason to believe however that the current morphology and functioning of a plant is the result of adaptation through natural selection. The author's view of adaptations is that they are specific to particular environmental contexts, namely that they are features that allow biological organisms to survive under very specific environmental conditions. In addition, any benefit that an organism obtains from an adaptation must assessed in relative terms. It would not be appropriate therefore to view a particular adaptation for a particular organism in a particular environment as being appropriate to another organism in another environment, even though the environments to both are similar enough that they tempt one to believe that the adaptations can be compared meaningfully. Of course, adaptations can only work by genetic transmission from one generation to the next, and there is no guarantee that they will remain efficacious for all future generations of the organism. An adaptation the author argues, is only a set of features that increases the probability that the organism will survive or reproduce successfully for a specific environment. It is natural to ask at this point whether if given a particular plant one can ascertain whether a certain feature is adaptive or not. The author is aware of this difficulty, since it requires the identification of the selection pressures that underly the functioning of the proposed adaptation. The resolution of this problem requires years of careful experimentation and observation, a course of activity that has characterized and will continue to characterize sound science.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
This is a very well written and informative book 12 April 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
The author has written an up to date and thoughtful book about evolution using plants as examples of all major ideas. This book should be read by any one interested in evolution or plant biology. The text is easy to read, with a minimum of jargon, and the book is well illustrated. I was especially interested in how the author combined information for the study of living plants with the information from the fossil record. This is one of the best books I've read in a long time. I recommend it highly.
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