At the Water's Edge: The Macroevolution of Life

At the Water's Edge: The Macroevolution of Life

by Carl Zimmer, Carl Buell
     
 

At the Water's Edge takes you to the icy peaks of Greenland, the ancient shores of the Tethys Sea, and the warm waters of the Bahamas to visit with dolphins as it surveys how we have come to understand two special cases of macroevolution. In the first, around 360 million years ago, the descendants of one lineage of fish came ashore and rushed over the…  See more details below

Overview

At the Water's Edge takes you to the icy peaks of Greenland, the ancient shores of the Tethys Sea, and the warm waters of the Bahamas to visit with dolphins as it surveys how we have come to understand two special cases of macroevolution. In the first, around 360 million years ago, the descendants of one lineage of fish came ashore and rushed over the continents, eventually evolving into everything from turtles and dinosaurs to elephants and people. Then around 50 million years ago, and just as remarkably, one branch of these descendants crept back into the water and evolved into whales, dolphins, and other highly intelligent underwater life. The resulting portrait of the origin of whales is as marvelous as it is compelling. The story begins before Darwin's revolution when the first mysterious fossils from these transitions were unearthed - often by colorful entrepreneurs more familiar with the techniques of the circus than those of the laboratory. Escorting us along the trail of discovery up to the current dramatic research in paleontology, ecology, genetics, and embryology, Zimmer shows how scientists today are unveiling the secrets of life that biologists struggled with two centuries ago.

Read More

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
One of the hallmarks of life is change. In his first book, Zimmer, a senior editor and feature writer at Discover magazine, has chosen to explicate two of the biggest examples of organic evolution the Earth has ever seen. He starts by describing how fish, beginning between 350 and 400 million years ago, evolved into creatures who crawled out of the water and, eventually, into terrestrial mammals able to breathe air, withstand the pressures of gravity and move about without the aid of water. He then turns his attention to how, 40-50 million years ago, some well-adapted terrestrial mammals went back into the sea and, over time, gave rise to whales, porpoises and their marine relatives. Zimmer shows that the transformation back to aquatic lifewithout the luxury of gills, fins and the host of additional adaptations that make fish so successfulwas an amazing evolutionary feat. Zimmer treats the controversy surrounding the mechanism of macroevolution only cursorily: he opts not to take a position in the conflict between the proponents of punctuated equilibrium and the advocates of gradualism. But he makes up for that lack with his gripping account of how scientists work. By accompanying scientists into the field, visiting them in their laboratories and conducting extensive interviews with them, Zimmer communicates the excitement of cutting-edge scientific research and fieldwork. More than just an informative book about macroevolution itself, this is an entertaining history of ideas written with literary flair and technical rigor. Line drawings and diagrams throughout. (Apr.)
Library Journal - Library Journal
Zimmer examines the phenomenon of macroevolution (global evolution across hundreds of millions of years) by looking at sea-to-land evolution, then the much later land-to-sea processes that led to ocean mammals. (LJ 2/1/98)
Booknews
Discusses the history of evolutionary science as it relates to current knowledge of the transformation of body types through evolution. Focusing primarily on the emergence of the first land creatures 360 million years ago and the later return to the sea of the ancestors of whales and dolphins some 60 million years ago, the author uses findings from paleontology, ecology, genetics, and embryology to explain broad mechanisms of speciation. Annotation c. by Book News, Inc., Portland, Or.
Philip Gingerich
Carl Zimmer is a science writer and senior editor at Discover magazine. The breadth of his experience and his distance from the subject are important qualifications for tackling the macroevolution controversies....Zimmer does a good job of explaining how profoundly different are the physiological and structural requirements of life in water compared to life on land. -- Philip Gingerich, The New York Times Book Review
Kirkus Reviews
Points to Zimmer, a senior editor at Discover magazine, for tackling unplowed ground in popular paleontology: no less than the movement of life from sea to land (over 350 million years ago) and the later reverse migration as land mammals returned to the sea. These transitions are dubbed "macroevolution"—big changes, as opposed to the smaller changes of microevolution. The bare bones of current theory has it that we are descended from lobe-finned fishes. During a wet period when plants were creeping toward the water's edge and swamps abounded with life, these fish developed fins with fingers and toes to maneuver on muddy bottoms and pick at plant life while staying mainly in the water. But one thing led to another, and more land-lubbering species emerged. The one thing Zimmer emphasizes is the role of "Hox" genes, which control major events in embryogenesis, such as the shape of the basic body pattern and the formation of limbs from tissue "buds." A mutation in timing or patterning of Hox genes can do wonders for changing form and function. The reverse transition from land to sea is an equally complex story and maybe even more controversial. It involves what Zimmer describes as a misfit group of hoofed, long-snouted, carnivorous predators called "mesonychids" drawn to the sea for the rich herring and other catches. Subsequent changes over a few million years involved loss of fur, hips, and lower limbs and development of fins and fluke and other essentials of life in the depths. Zimmer uses the latest cladistic diagrams to plot the species splits and changes over time—pointing out that they are at odds with molecular geneticists' DNA analyses, which would have hippos aswhales' closest living relatives. Don't hold your breath waiting for resolution on that score. But do credit Zimmer with this scholarly disquisition on two of evolution's most absorbing transformations.

Read More

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780684834900
Publisher:
Free Press
Publication date:
04/13/1998
Pages:
304
Product dimensions:
6.33(w) x 9.53(h) x 0.95(d)

Related Subjects

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network

     

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >