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When the Invasion of Land Failed: The Legacy…

When the Invasion of Land Failed: The Legacy of the Devonian Extinctions…

by George R. McGhee Jr.

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The vertebrate invasion of land did not, of course, actually fail, but it was set back, and, in McGhee's estimation, redirected by the mass extinctions of the Late Devonian. One usually speaks of two, in the Frasnian and Famennian geological ages, but at least the first and probably both were actually series of closely (geologically speaking) spaced events. Collectively, the Frasnian ones in particular were very severe, comparable to the more famous one at the end of the Cretaceous (the dinosaur killer).

McGhee does a pretty good balancing act between readbility and scientific rigour, tho sometimes one wonders at what he thinks requires explanation and what not. A weakness is the phylogenetic classifications, where only differing levels of indentation allows you to see what's on a level with what - not easy to keep track of when there's a dozen entries in between. Cladograms showing the branching directly would've been more helpful. Another quibble is rather carefree way he speaks about "major clades" as if there were an objective cutoff from minor ones.

Such quibbles nonewithstanding, it's a good book. It's also an illustration of how fast things are moving in this field - a good deal has happened since Laurin's 2010 How Vertebrates Left the Water, say.
1 vote AndreasJ | Nov 8, 2013 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0231160577, Paperback)

The invasion of land by ocean-dwelling plants and animals was one of the most revolutionary events in the evolution of life on Earth, yet the animal invasion almost failed -- twice -- because of the twin mass extinctions of the Late Devonian Epoch. Some 359 to 375 million years ago, these catastrophic events dealt our ancestors a blow that almost drove them back into the sea. If those extinctions had been just a bit more severe, spiders and insects -- instead of vertebrates -- might have become the ecologically dominant forms of animal life on land.

This book examines the profound evolutionary consequences of the Late Devonian extinctions and the various theories proposed to explain their occurrence. Only one group of four-limbed vertebrates exists on Earth, while other tetrapod-like fishes are extinct. This gap is why the idea of "fish with feet" seems so peculiar to us, yet such animals were once a vital part of our world, and if the Devonian extinctions had not happened, members of these species, like the famous Acanthostega and Ichthyostega, might have continued to live in our rivers and lakes. Synthesizing decades of research and including a wealth of new discoveries, this accessible, comprehensive text explores the causes of the Devonian extinctions, the reasons vertebrates were so severely affected, and the potential evolution of the modern world if the extinctions had never taken place.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:13:47 -0400)

"This book explores the ecological consequences of the twin extinction events--the one that occurred within the Late Devonian (the end-Frasnian extinction) and the one that closed the Devonian period (the end-Famennian extinction)--for the evolution of terrestrial animal life on Earth--Provided by publisher.… (more)

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