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The Cambrian Explosion: The Construction of Animal Biodiversity Hardcover – 1 Jan 2013


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Product details

  • Hardcover: 600 pages
  • Publisher: Roberts and Company Publishers (1 Jan. 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1936221039
  • ISBN-13: 978-1936221035
  • Product Dimensions: 17.8 x 2.3 x 25.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 349,345 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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About the Author

Douglas Erwin is a paleobiologist with interests in evolutionary innovations and the end-Permian mass extinction and subsequent biotic recovery, among other areas. Recent field projects have taken him to China, South Africa, and Canada. He is Senior Scientist and Curator in the Department of Paleobiology at the National Museum of Natural History and a professor at the Santa Fe Institute. He is the author of six books, including most recently Extinction: How Life on Earth Nearly Ended 250 Million Years Ago (Princeton University Press, 2005). Jim Valentine has spent the last 50 years trying to understand the paleoecological and macroevolutionary principles that have shaped the fossil record of the marine biosphere. He has found the earliest animal records to be a particular challenge to such interpretation and a delight to investigate. He is active Professor Emeritus of Integrative Biology at the University of California, and the author of many books, including most recently On the Origin of Phyla (University of Chicago Press, 2004).

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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By H. A. Van Berg on 28 Jun. 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a book I really wanted to like and it has much to recommend it. However, it is riddled with both typos and relatively minor mistakes in the diagrams. For instance, Figure 4.4 groups the Hemichordata together with the Protostomia. It is clear from the main text that the authors have no intention of making such an outrageous claim, but in this age where students scan and copy source material without a moment's reflection, we should perhaps take extra care in preparing our diagrams. Before you know it, this turns up on Wikipedia as a "truth." Figure 4.13 labels the ectoderm as mesenchyme; again manifestly an oversight, and not intended as a shocking reinvention of anatomical terminology. I could go on, but you get the idea: the writers were in a hurry to get the book out, and, one guesses from the general behaviour of prominent academics, spending too much time on being important and too little on old-fashioned scholarship.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By ALAN on 18 July 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I would recommend this to anyone who is even remotely interested in palaeontology and earth history in general. Given the nature of the subject i did think it might be a ponderous read but this was not the case at all. Thoroughly absorbing and addressed many mis-conceptions that i had previously held not only on the cambrian era but preceding ears as well
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 16 reviews
58 of 61 people found the following review helpful
A demanding picture book 7 April 2013
By Martin - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
This book was not always an easy read, but then I'm not studying palaeontology and this book is a university text book, all be it a basic one. Still, I really enjoyed it. I have always been interested in palaeontology and in the rise of the first animals in particular and this book covers the time from the first sponges in the Cryogenian, followed by the Ediacaran with some very strange animals and of course the Cambrian.

According to Erwin and Valentine the Cambrian explosion began 550 Million years ago, towards the end of Ediacaran and continued into the early Cambrian. They argue that there is no single factor that led to the explosion, but that the interplay of three factors: environment, ecological relationships and the evolution of development systems. And although this book covers many topics, they keep coming back to how these three influenced each other.

The scope of this book is very broad. It covers geology, describing different methods of dating and correlating rocks using uranium's radioactive decay into lead, the earth's magnetic polarity and carbon-13 isotopes. There's quite a bit about cladistics, how to group animals, using the morphology of extent and fossil animals and of course genetics. A complete chapter is devoted to the development of ecosystems, another to the development of the animal genome describing how certain (HOX) genes regulate other genes which control some more genes; how links in this regulatory network can be broken and reconnected in different ways. This was not always easy to follow.

I disagree with the assessment by Jan Peczkis that this book is not particularly technical. If you want to read a more basic text book, I recommend "History of Life, 5th edition" by Richard Cowen. It is true that there are a lot of very helpful coloured diagrams, plus a lot of pictures, including some truly fantastic pictures (could have been bigger, i.e. 1 picture per page) by Quade Paul of very weird animals that appeared in the Ediacaran and the Cambrian. In fact you might call this a picture book!
52 of 56 people found the following review helpful
21st century science at its best 18 May 2013
By Bryan Pfaffenberger - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The science of the 21st century is multidisciplinary for one, simple reason: It has to be. The grand challenges of science -- curing cancer, understanding climate change, and overcoming our dependence on fossil fuels, to name a few -- require nothing less than collaboration across disciplinary boundaries. This extraordinary book tackles the grand challenge par excellence of paleobiology: the "Cambrian Explosion," in which nearly all of the extant phyla of the animal kingdom seem to have appeared quite suddenly, at least in in geological terms (about 20 million years, from the middle to the upper Cambrian), without readily apparent precursors in the fossil record. And it does so with a commitment to multidisciplinarity that amounts to an education, in itself, in the principles of the advanced science that is now emerging.

The problem tackled by this book is by no means new. In his Origin of Species (1859), Charles Darwin noted that the sudden appearance of animal phyla at the base of the Cambrian raised questions about the veracity of his theory of evolution by means of natural selection -- a theory that predicts substantial prior development during the Neoproterozoic. Yet, so far as Darwin or anyone else knew at the time, animal fossils first appeared at the base of the Cambrian. Pointing to the deficiencies of the fossil record, Darwin believed that evidence of pre-Cambrian animals would one day come to light -- and he was correct.

Today, we know that a strange collection of ocean-floor-dwelling fauna appeared during the Ediacaran, which immediately preceded the Cambrian. There are trace fossils, too, which suggest that soft-bodied bilaterian animals had indeed developed prior to the Cambrian without leaving any trace in the fossil record. Moreover, "molecular clock" studies, which assume that certain components of DNA change at a fixed rate over time, suggest that animals began diverging even earlier, during the early- to mid-Neoproterozoic. Finally, studies of the changing chemistry of the Earth's oceans during pre-Cambrian times suggest a gradual, if fitful, oxygenation of continental shelf oceans during the Neoproterozoic -- a key development, since multicellular organisms cannot develop without available oxygen.

But these discoveries have not, in themselves, solved the problem. For one thing, the evidence is difficult to interpret. Most of the Ediacaran fauna, for example, appear to amount to brief-lived evolutionary experiments that had little, if any, impact on subsequent animal evolution. Distinguishing trace fossils from marks left by non-biological processes is difficult, at best. Molecular clocks turn out to keep time differently, depending on their underlying assumptions, as do chronologies of ocean oxygenation. There is evidence, in sum, of animal divergence prior to the Cambrian, but it took place at an exceedingly slow pace, at best. Against the slow pace of animal evolution prior to the Cambrian, the Cambrian explosion still appears, arguably, to be an explosion indeed -- a remarkably sudden event that cannot be easily explained by its mysterious antecedents.

Tackling this problem in a truly multidisciplinary spirit are the book's distinguished co-authors, Douglas R. Erwin of the U.S. National Museum of Natural History (Washington, D.C.) and James W. Valentine of the Department of Integrative Biology at University of California, Berkeley. The key to grasping the book's approach is the book's subtitle, a point that other reviewers have not as yet noted: "The Construction of Animal Diversity." As against studies that try to identify a single "cause" of the Cambrian explosion, usually from a disciplinary point of view, the authors emphasize the development of complex networks linking geochemical, environmental, genetic, evolutionary, and developmental processes. For example, although the timing and pace of the ocean's oxygenation is still poorly understood, there is no doubt that this process involved the cumulative network effects of organic activity -- activity that helped to transform the Earth into a stage, so to speak, for an apparent eruption of biological diversity. Their point is this: If the Cambrian fauna seem to have appeared on the stage quite suddenly, they did so only because the theatre had been built, the air conditioning installed, the various services (restrooms, stage, telephones etc.) provided, and the scripts were written -- and, from this point of view, it is unsurprising that a variety of characters would suddenly appear, spanning the gamut from Hamlet to Malvolio. The theater took a hell of a long time to build, to be sure, but once it was finished, the company could run through the repertoire in a season or two. And by no means were animals the only biota to take advantage of this new community resource: similar, explosive diversity occurred in the other kingdoms of life, as well.

To build their picture of network construction, the authors call on an impressive variety of disciplinary perspectives, including geology, evolutionary biology, paleoenvironmental and paleoclimate studies, the comparative biology of today's living animal phyla, genomics, molecular biology, and even economics. The picture that emerges is a series of steps involving positive feedback, in which new innovations created opportunities for the development of new species. For example, sponges helped set the stage by ventilating the water column in the Cryogenian, just as bioturbation of ocean sediment altered the microbial environment of the ocean floor in ways that facilitated metazoan development. And by the dawn of the Cambrian, it seems that the true metazoa had developed a shared and remarkably stable genetic toolkit that enabled body plan variations -- precisely the variations that were to occur, in short order, as nearly all of the animal phyla appeared. Here, too, feedback played a crucial role: the sudden emergence of animal diversity is clearly linked to the development of new networks of gene interaction and new methods of gene regulation, both of which enabled early Cambrian fauna to diversify rapidly in the face of unprecedentedly permissive ecological opportunities. The scripts had indeed been written, a fact that is strikingly confirmed by the surpassingly odd fact that very few new animal phyla have appeared since the Cambrian explosion.

Ranging as far afield as it does, this book will sooner or later expose the weak spots in a reader's education -- and, as other reviewers have pointed out, it is by no means an easy read. It's worth noting that, as the authors recall, the book was originally intended for graduate students in molecular biology! Still, any reader with a solid undergraduate education should be able to piece through the book's various chapters without too much trouble. I found it helpful to have my laptop at hand, so that I could look up unfamiliar terminology. Certainly, this book isn't for the casual reader. Still, the effort involved produces a handsome payoff. By the time you've finished reading it, you'll have a good sense of the state of the art across a range of cutting-edge scientific disciplines -- and, most of all, an appreciation of the stunning progress that can occur when workers put them together.
43 of 46 people found the following review helpful
A Very Colorful Book on Many Aspects of Metazoan Evolutionary Biology and Paleontology 31 Mar. 2013
By Jan Peczkis - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
This work is much more than the study of the Ediacaran fauna and the Cambrian explosion. It provides the reader with an all-around introduction to many subjects. What's more, this book is not particularly technical. Many basics of biology are explained. One striking feature of this book is the lucid use of photographs and color diagrams. This makes the book particularly enjoyable to study.

This work features such things as the zoology and paleozoology of many animal types, the basics of animal classification, an introduction to both traditional phylogeny as well as cladistics, the basics of mutation-based evolutionary change, the consequences of both unicellularity and multicellularity, and much more. Geologic topics discussed include the basics of long-distance correlation, use of isotopic dating, and other subjects.

This book includes a series of tables that provide a quick, concise summary of information to the reader. It ends with an extensive bibliography of works, many from scientific journals, for further reading.
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
A rare book 20 Aug. 2013
By dwain berggren - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Up-to-date, comprehensive, well-organized, well-written, marvelously illustrated: "The Cambrian Explosion" is a broad authoritative review for students and earnest readers who follow developments in studies of animal evolution in various fields of geology, paleontology, and paleobiology. The book is a near-encyclopedic guide to current research and discoveries providing insights about the life forms, ecology, and environment of the obscure, fascinating, transitional late Precambrian and early Cambrian time.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Great Study and Reference Book 10 Jan. 2014
By Edward L. Crisp - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Erwin and Valentine have completed a tremendous scholarly work with this book that gives the current state of knowledge in understanding the great Cambrian diversification of animals. The authors discuss in considerable detail the complex metazoan precursors of the Cambrian diversification, the Ediacaran fauna of late Neoproterozoic age, and our state of understanding of these soft bodied fossils. They also give an update on radiometric dating of the late Neoproterozoic and Cambrian Period, and thus present some bracketing radiometric dates for the Ediacaran fauna, as well as the following rapid diversification fauna of the Cambrian, including the Chengjiang fauna of China and the Burgess Shale fauna of Canada. The unusual fossil preservation of all these soft bodied deposits (including some hard bodied fossils in the Cambrian deposits) is also discussed in some detail. They also stress the incompleteness of the fossil record for the late Neoproterozoic and for the Early Cambrian, and express the hope that new finds in the future will aid in further interpretation of the pattern of evolution for this major diversification event. This book is almost encyclopedic in its coverage of this topic, with sections discussing stratigraphy, plate tectonics, isotope studies, animal development and morphology, animal ecology and ecosystem development, gene and genomic studies, gene regulatory studies, classification, taxonomy, and phylogenetic relationships, molecular clocks, niche construction, etc. The authors suggest that the metazoan (multicelled animal) stem ancestor lived earlier than 780 million years ago (the beginning of the Cambrian Period of the Phanerozoic Eon begins about 542 million years ago). They also state that the stem bilaterian (bilaterally symmetrical) animal lived between 700-670 million years ago and the last common ancestor of Protostomes and Deuterostomes lived approximately 670 million years ago.

This book is a challenge to read, but well worth the effort. It is also valuable as a book to have in your library as one of the latest (and one of the best) references for the rapid Cambrian diversification of metazoan life at the beginning of the Phanerozoic Eon.
Erwin and Valentine have presented some exciting hypotheses to explain the rapid evolutionary diversification of animals during the Cambrian Period. They have also shown that there are still problems due to inadequate data, that when resolved and perhaps with new techniques and inferences, will keep graduate students (and geologists, paleontologists, paleobiologists, and evolutionary biologists) busy for years to come.

The photographs, colored charts and diagrams, and art work in this book are numerous and are of excellent quality.
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