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For Further Reading

Darwin, C. R. 1859. On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life.

Reference for: Chapter 12, The Foundations of Evolutionary Theory

Haldane, J. B. S. 1932. The Causes of Evolution. Longman: UK.

Reference for: Chapter 12, The Foundations of Evolutionary Theory


*Long, John A. 1995. The Rise of Fishes: 500 Million Years of Evolution. John Hopkins University Press: MD

This lavish overview of the evolution of fishes is not the most detailed but its illustrations and photographs give a rich sense of the evidence on which our understanding of fish evolution is based. It makes a highly readable reference for students and a terrific desk reference for instructors called upon to teach aspects of fish evolution.

Reference for: Chapter 12, Spotlight 12.1

*Raup, David. 1991. Extinction: Bad Genes or Bad Luck? W.W. Norton: NY

This “little” book summarizes the evidence for five major extinctions in the geologic records and their causes. It’s a highly readable and engaging account that will quickly bring the reader up to date on this fascinating topic.

Reference for: Chapter 12, The Foundations of Evolutionary Theory


*Stott, Rebecca. 2003. Darwin and the Barnacle: The Story of One Tiny Creature and History’s Most Spectacular Scientific Breakthrough. Norton: NY

This book brings to the forefront Darwin’s painstaking and highly important work on barnacles. It might be argued that Darwin formulated his ideas about evolution and natural selection from studying barnacles. Although this is a “storybook”, in the sense that it weaves a narrative about Darwin’s barnacle work, it does illuminate this important and little known work in an engaging and instructive manner.

Reference for: Chapter 12, The Foundations of Evolutionary Theory

*Carroll, Sean B. 2006. The Making of the Fittest: DNA and the Ultimate Forensic Record of Evolution. W. W. Norton: NY

The evolutionary record is contained in the DNA of organisms. It is a history that we can finally begin to read.



*Coyne, Jerry A., and H. Allen Orr. 2004. Speciation. Sinauer Associates: MA.

Coyne and Orr have written a textbook covering all aspects of speciation, emphasizing modern research on this topic.


*Ellis, Richard. 2001. Aquagenesis: The Origin and Evolution of Life in the Sea. Viking Penguin Books: NY

Ellis is a masterful storyteller and illustrator. There are better books on this subject but if you like Ellis way of weaving facts, this book should please you.


*Fortey, Richard. 1997. Life: A Natural History of the First Four Billion Years of Life on Earth. Vintage Books: NY

Fortey narrates the history of life on Earth, citing his own work and the research of other scientists to piece together the puzzles of how life evolved.


*Fortey, Richard. 2000. Trilobite! Eyewitness to Evolution. Alfred A. Knopf: NY

All you ever wanted to know about trilobites in an engaging, delightful prose.

*Gould, Stephen Jay. 1989. Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History. W. W. Norton: NY

Stephen Jay Gould delights some and irritates others but he always manages to inspire thoughtful reflection on a topic. In this book, he discusses in great detail the Burgess Shale and how it paints a picture of the “progression” of evolution unlike what is commonly perceived. Gould sees evolution not only as “survival of the fittest” but also as “survival of the lucky.”

*Gould, Stephen Jay. 2001. The Book of Life: An Illustrated History of the Evolution of Life on Earth. W.W. Norton: IA

*Gould, Stephen Jay. 2002. The Structure of Evolutionary Theory. Belknap Press of Harvard University Press: MA

This immense volume details Gould’s provocative and often controversial views on the evolution of life on Earth. To his credit, Gould is typically entertaining, and this book reads like a good novel. Unfortunately, you have to read a lot of it if you are generally unfamiliar with his ideas or the nuances of evolution. Nonetheless, it’s an essential reference for a biologist’s library.

*Hull, David L. 2001. Science and Selection: Essays on Biological Evolution and the Philosophy of Science. Cambridge University Press: UK

Hull’s essays educate and entertain and get the reader to thinking more deeply about science and its effects on humanity. His essays on evolution are a big help to those who need a refresher or those who require greater ammunition in the verbal wars with antievolutionists.

*Johnson, Kirk R., and Richard K. Stucky. 1995. Prehistoric Journey: A History of Life on Earth. Roberts Rinehart Publishers: CO.

Based on dioramas at the Denver Museum of Natural History, this delightfully illustrated book traces the history of life from microbes to mammals, with an emphasis on dinosaurs. Its brevity notwithstanding, this book does a great job of providing the fossil evidence on which the scientific interpretation of the history of life is based.

*Kirschner, Marc W. and John C. Gerhart. 2005. The Plausibility of Life: Resolving Darwin’s Dilemma. Yale University Press: CT

Kirscner and Gerhart tackle the origins of new species and evolutionary complexity.

*Knoll, Andrew. 2003. Life on a Young Planet: The First Three Billion Years of Evolution on Earth. Princeton University Press: NJ

This is an outstanding book on the evolution of Earth and its biota. Knoll is one of the pioneers in the field of geobiology and his up-to-date scientific account of the field makes this an excellent reference and an entertaining read. Knoll exposes the controversies and examines the evidence that surrounding them. Most narratives don’t make good reference books but Knoll’s is an exception. If you are trying to choose between “histories of life on Earth”, pick this one.

*Larson, Edward J. 2004. Evolution: The Remarkable History of a Scientific Theory. Modern Library: NY

This book sketches the development of evolutionary theory. It’s primarily written for general audiences and so loses some of the detail required for students and instructors.

*Margulis, Lynn, and Dorion Sagan. 1986. Microcosmos: Four Billion Years of Microbial Evolution. Simon and Schuster: NY.

A provocative hypothesis about the interdependency of higher organisms and bacteria.

*Margulis, Lynn. 1998. The Symbiotic Planet: A New Look at Evolution. Weidenfeld & Nicolson: UK

Margulis is not one to shy away from controversy. Her endosymbiotic hypothesis was met with great skepticism originally but is now widely accepted. In this book, she applies her principles of symbiosis to the full range of life and its communities, including Earth.

*Margulis, Lynn, and Michael F. Dolan. 2002. Early Life: Evolution of the PreCambrian Earth, 2nd Edition. Jones and Bartlett: MA

*Mayr, Ernst. 1982. The Growth of Biological Thought: Diversity, Evolution, and Inheritance. Belknap Press of Harvard University Press: MA

Professor Sean thinks this is one of the most important books ever written. It defends the place of biology in science and retells the history of evolutionary thinking from pre- to neo-Darwinism. At more than 900 pages, it’s an intimidating volume, but Mayr’s prose and his way of explaining concepts makes this book a delight to read. You will only want to read several pages of it at a time as Mayr provokes deep reverie with every page. But you will have a more comprehensive and deeper understanding of evolution upon reading this book than is possible with just about any other book.

*Mayr, Ernst. 2001. What Evolution Is. Basic Books: NY

Any book by Ernst Mayr is worth reading, according to Professor Sean. This book provides a solid foundation for different aspects of evolution and evolutionary processes.

*Weiner, Jonathan. 1994. The Beak of the Finch. Vintage Books: NY

This Pulitzer Prize-winning book has become a textbook for learning about evolution.

*Zimmer, Carl. 1998. At the Water’s Edge: Fish With Fingers, Whales With Legs, and How Life Came Ashore but Then Went Back to Sea. Simon and Schuster: NY

An excellent narrative on macroevolution.

*Zimmer, Carl. 2001. Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea. HarperCollins: NY

This is the companion book to the Evolution video series by PBS.

*Moorehead, Alan. 1969. Darwin and the Beagle. Harper & Row: NY

This “old” book is notable for its abundant photos, illustrations and drawings, many of which are full page and stunning, and for its highly readable and intimate account of Charles Darwin’s voyage aboard HMS Beagle. It’s not as dense with information as other books on Darwin but it captures the spirit of his curiosity and scientific reasoning.

Reference for: Chapter 12, The Foundations of Evolutionary Theory

The Endless Voyage: Building Blocks, Water World and Survivors (written by W. S. Chamberlin) (Episodes 18, 19 and 21). 2002 (VHS and DVD). Intelecom.

Professor Sean appeared in several of the episodes of this series and helped develop learning activities to support it. While some episodes are better than others, The Endless Voyage provides one of the most complete and up-to-date series on oceanography available

: : Encyclopedia of the Sea : :
Chapter Two Image

The Sea Stars by Sean Chamberlin

The sea stars (Asteroidea = ASS-tur-OYE-dee-uh), also known as starfish (though they are decidedly not a fish), inhabit a wide range of environments from the intertidal to the deep sea. Among the ~1500 species of asteroids in the world ocean, the greatest variety can be found in the Pacific Northwest, where at least 35 species are common (70 species are known from Puget Sound to the Aleutians). As noted by Ron Shimek, many Pacific Northwest sea stars are not five-legged (1997, Aquarium.net). The sunflower star, Pycnopodia helianthoides, at diameters approaching 3 feet, has anywhere from 15-24 legs which it uses quite ably to “run down” (at speeds of 18 feet per minute) herds of sea urchins which may “stampede” from a tidepool when the presence of the sunflower star becomes known (via chemical cues). Shimek notes that bat stars, Asterina miniata, have been observed with 3 to 8 arms. Some variation in arm numbers arises when a starfish loses its arm. Their regenerative abilities are of great interest and well studied; an entire starfish may regrow from as little as one arm and a portion of their central disk.

While their nervous systems are relatively simple and decentralized, sea stars have a two-component nervous system that branches from a central nerve ring: one component facilitates sensory functions while the other component coordinates motor functions. Typically, starfish “lead” with one arm (i.e. one arm is dominant) in search of food, protection or other starfish. In an extraordinary time-lapse video shot by the world renowned Howard and Michelle Hall, aggregations of starfish can be seen touching arms in a manner reminiscent of the multi-part handshakes popular among hipsters, albeit in slow motion (Secrets of the Ocean Ream, 1998). Such behavior may be agonistic (establishing dominance) or have other possible functions. While some starfish may scavenge, consume mud or detritus, or even filter feed, most are carnivores. The sensory tools in starfish arms enable them to exhibit sophisticated feeding behaviors, locating prey by chemical or tactile cues. Some sea stars are able to detect buried prey and dig them out of their burrows. Some are quite specific in their diets; others consume diverse types of prey.

Whatever their diet, sea stars exert a strong influence in most environments where they occur, often structuring the diversity of the community. In a well-known study of Pisaster ochraceous, the ochre star, off the coast of Washington, Robert Paine demonstrated by exclusion experiments that by feeding on mussels and opening space for other species to inhabit, Pisaster increased the diversity of intertidal communities where it was present. These studies led him to the concept of the keystone predator, a species whose presence alone alters the structure of the community in which it occurs, including prey size, abundance, diversity, distribution and composition (Menge et al., 1994). When the species is removed, the community shifts (“collapses”) to a less diverse assemblage (hence the analogy to a keystone in an arch which, when removed, collapses the arch). Since Paine’s classic studies in 1969, the keystone predator concept has served as a central ecological theme for investigating and managing marine communities (e.g. Payton et al., 2002). Yet marine ecologists increasingly recognize that “bottom-up” factors, such as oceanographic processes affecting nutrient and food availability, supply and distribution, may be important in structuring nearshore marine communities (Menge et al, 1997). As is often the case, the keystone predator concept is just one of many factors that must be taken into affect when developing models of marine ecosystems.

A more dramatic illustration of the interaction between top-down and bottom-up controls (and scientific interpretation of which is most important) is provided by the crown-of-thorns-starfish “catastrophe” in the 1960s and 70s. At that time, the crown-of-thorns starfish, Acanthaster planci, a species that feeds on coral polyps, rapidly proliferated and denuded significant portions of many reefs, including the Great Barrier Reef. At the time, well-meaning ecologists and environmentalists postulated that removal of the “keystone predator” Triton conchs by shell collectors allowed the crown-of-thorns starfish, their favorite prey, to reproduce unchecked. They predicted that unless action was taken, the crown-of-thorns starfish would devastate coral reefs worldwide. An ambitious program using divers was undertaken in Australia to remove or kill by injection of formalin as many crown-of-thorns as possible. Despite these efforts, the populations of the crown-of-thorn starfish waxed and waned seemingly inexplicably until a scientist at the University of Guam presented evidence that their populations grew during times when phytoplankton were abundant which occurred during times of heavy rainfall when runoff of nutrients stimulated phytoplankton growth (Birkeland 1982; 1989). Subsequently, researchers at the Australian Institute of Marine Science have developed computer models that support the relationship between eutrophication (runoff of nutrients leading to an increase in algal abundance) and the growth of starfish larvae (De’ath, ABC Science Online, March 22, 2004; AIM News media release, March 18, 2004). Researchers note that even when Acanthaster is abundant, its feeding behavior leaves large, uneaten patches of coral. In the patches where corals are devoured, other species gain a foothold, potentially increasing biodiversity. Most likely, species interactions and oceanographic processes are important for influencing community structure on the reefs.

Given their widespread distribution and the potential ecological control they exert over marine communities, it might be expected that the presence or absence of sea stars in a particular habitat influences energy and material cycles. Yet the consequences of these effects are difficult to measure. Robert Paine in a study of the effects of sea urchin grazers on algal biomass concluded that higher diversity in the presence of sea urchins maintains the dominance of a less-productive seaweed, contrary to expectations from terrestrial environments and other studies where biodiversity is positively correlated with productivity (Paine 2002). In a comparative study of models and field manipulations at two intertidal sites, Worm et al (2002) concluded that “bottom-up” factors such as nutrient supply and “top-down” factors such as grazing interact with each other and may have opposite effects under different circumstances. At one site, nutrient enrichment increased the diversity of consumers; at the other site, diversity decreased with nutrient enrichment. Similarly, when consumers were abundant, enrichments had little effect; when consumers were spare, enrichments had a greater effect on algal productivity. It seems possible, if not likely, that keystone predators, such as starfish (and other organisms), influence the storage and cycling of elements in ways that are not yet understood. The merging of process-level studies (biogeochemical cycles) with ecological studies (species interactions) may be one of the exciting new frontiers of ocean science in the 21st Century.

Special note: The Australian Institute of Marine Science maintains an extensive collection of online publications related to their research on the outbreaks and control of the crown-of-thorns starfish. See http://www.aims.gov.au/pages/publications.html