Wednesday, December 21, 2011

New Titles

1) Chinsamy-Turan, Anusuya (editor). Forerunners of Mammals: Radiation, Histology, Biology. 2011. Indiana University Press. Hardbound: 330 pages. Price: $60.00 U.S.

SUMMARY: About 320 million years ago a group of reptiles known as the synapsids emerged and forever changed Earth’s ecological landscapes. This book discusses the origin and radiation of the synapsids from their sail-backed pelycosaur ancestor to their diverse descendants, the therapsids or mammal-like reptiles, that eventually gave rise to mammals. It further showcases the remarkable evolutionary history of the synapsids in the Karoo Basin of South Africa and the environments that existed at the time. By highlighting studies of synapsid bone microstructure, it offers a unique perspective of how such studies are utilized to reconstruct various aspects of biology, such as growth dynamics, biomechanical function, and the attainment of sexual and skeletal maturity.
     A series of chapters outline the radiation and phylogenetic relationships of major synapsid lineages and provide direct insight into how bone histological analyses have led to an appreciation of these enigmatic animals as once-living creatures. The penultimate chapter examines the early radiation of mammals from their nonmammalian cynodont ancestors, and the book concludes by engaging the intriguing question of when and where endothermy evolved among the therapsids.
RECOMMENDATION: For those with a technical interest in vertebrate paleontology, especially histology.

2) Feduccia, Alan. Riddle of the Feathered Dragons: Hidden Birds of China. 2011. Yale University Press. Hardbound: 358 pages. Price: $55.00 U.S.
SUMMARY: Examining and interpreting recent spectacular fossil discoveries in China, paleontologists have arrived at a prevailing view: there is now incontrovertible evidence that birds represent the last living dinosaur. But is this conclusion beyond dispute? In this book, evolutionary biologist Alan Feduccia provides the most comprehensive discussion yet of the avian and associated evidence found in China, then exposes the massive, unfounded speculation that has accompanied these discoveries and been published in the pages of prestigious scientific journals.
     Advocates of the current orthodoxy on bird origins have ignored contrary data, misinterpreted fossils, and used faulty reasoning, the author argues. He considers why and how the debate has become so polemical and makes a plea to refocus the discussion by “breaking away from methodological straitjackets and viewing the world of origins anew.” Drawing on a lifetime of study, he offers his own current understanding of the origin of birds and avian flight.
RECOMMENDATION: There are two schools of thought on the origin of birds. Birds Are Dinosaurs (BAD) and Birds Are Not Dinosaurs (BAND). Feduccia is in the BAND school, which has lost favor among most paleontologists. If you're interested in the BAND arguments, I suggest you read this book.

3) Proctor Noble S. and Patrick J. Lynch. A Field Guide to the Southeast Coast & Gulf of Mexico. 2011. Yale University Press. Flexibound: 386 pages. Price: $24.00 U.S.
SUMMARY: This superb book, with its unique focus on the entire marine coastal environment, is the most comprehensive and up-to-date field guide available on the southeastern Atlantic Coast and the Gulf Coast. Not just for beachgoers, the book is essential for birders, whale watchers, fishers, boaters, scuba divers and snorkelers, and shoreline visitors.
     Features of the guide:
*Entries on 619 coastal and ocean species
*More than 1,100 color illustrations
*450 up-to-date range maps
*Overviews of key ecological communities, including mangroves, salt marshes, beaches, sand dunes, and coral reefs
*Special attention to threatened and endangered species
*Discussions of environmental issues, including such catastrophic events as Hurricane Katrina and the *Deepwater Horizon blowout
*Excellent organizational aids for locating information quickly

RECOMMENDATION: A good introduction to the natural history of the region.

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  1. Finally a new book on stem-mammals! John McLoughlin's Synapsida is over 30 years old.

  2. Given how many of them were almost certainly outside the CROWN GROUP, a lot of the critters in Kielan-Jaworowska, Cifelli and Luo's magnificent "Mammals rom the Dinosaur Era" count as STEM mammals, Mike! ... I've requested the Chinsamy book for Christmas, in the hope that it will be a fitting companion to my copy (birthday a few years back) of Kielan-Jaworowska et al.