Wednesday, September 23, 2015
1) Alexander, David E.. On the Wing: Insects, Pterosaurs, Birds, Bats and the Evolution of Animal Flight. 2015. Oxford University Press. Hardbound: 210 pages. Price: $29.95 U.S.
PUBLISHER'S SUMMARY: Ask anybody what superpower they wished to possess and odds are the answer just might be "the ability to fly." What is it about soaring through the air held up by the power of one's own body that has captivated humans for so long? David Alexander examines the evolution of flight in the only four animals to have evolved this ability: insects, pterosaurs, birds, and bats. With an accessible writing style grounded in rigorous research, Alexander breaks new ground in a field that has previously been confined to specialists. While birds have received the majority of attention from flight researchers, Alexander pays equal attention to all four groups of flyers-something that no other book on the subject has done before now. In a streamlined and captivating way, David Alexander demonstrates the links between the tiny 2-mm thrip and the enormous albatross with the 12 feet wingspan used to cross oceans.
The book delves into the fossil record of flyers enough to satisfy the budding paleontologist, while also pleasing ornithologists and entomologists alike with its treatment of animal behavior, flapping mechanisms, and wing-origin theory. Alexander uses relatable examples to draw in readers even without a natural interest in birds, bees, and bats. He takes something that is so off-limits and unfamiliar to humans-the act of flying-and puts it in the context of experiences that many readers can relate to. Alexander guides readers through the anomalies of the flying world: hovering hummingbirds, unexpected gliders (squirrels, for instance), and the flyers that went extinct (pterosaurs). Alexander also delves into wing-origin theory and explores whether birds entered the skies from the trees down (as gliders) or from the ground up (as runners) and uses the latest fossil evidence to present readers with an answer.
RECOMMENDATION: For those with a semi-technical interest in the topic.
2) Duellman, William E.. Marsupial Frogs: Gastrotheca and Allied Genera. 2015. Johns Hopkins University Press. Hardbound: 407 pages. Price: $120.00 U.S.
PUBLISHER'S SUMMARY: This scientific masterpiece reveals many aspects of the lives of marsupial frogs and closely allied genera. Native to Central and South America, these amphibians differ from other frogs in that they protect their eggs after oviposition by either adhering them to the female’s back or placing them in a specialized dorsal pouch (thus the common name, marsupial frog). During mating, the male typically collects the eggs from the female with his feet—often one at a time and always out of water—fertilizes them, and then tucks them into the female’s pouch or attaches them to her back. In some species these eggs hatch as tadpoles, but most emerge as miniatures of the adults. Even among the tadpoles there is remarkable divergence, with some behaving in the typical manner (feeding and metamorphosing), whereas others forego all feeding until they metamorphose.
In Marsupial Frogs, William E. Duellman’s synthesis of all that is known about the unique family Hemiphractidae is largely based on decades of his own careful laboratory and field study. He reveals the diversity of exotic color patterns and the frogs' geographic distributions by providing more than 200 photographs, illustrations, and maps. This exceptional tome should find its way into the libraries of serious herpetologists, tropical biologists, and developmental biologists.
Included in this book are:
• A molecular phylogeny of the family Hemiphractidae• A thorough osteological analysis• A review of external morphological features• An overview of the evolution of reproductive modes• A biogeographic synthesis• Keys to genera and species• Diagnosis and thorough description of each species of marsupial frog• Colored physiographic maps depicting species distributions.
RECOMMENDATION: For those with a technical interest in these species.