A key aim is to explain the science. Gone are the days of guesswork. Young researchers use impressive new numerical and imaging methods to explore the tree of life, macroevolution, global change, and functional morphology.
The fourth edition is completely revised. The cladistic framework is strengthened, and new functional and developmental spreads are added. Study aids include: key questions, research to be done, and recommendations of further reading and web sites.
The book is designed for palaeontology courses in biology and geology departments. It is also aimed at enthusiasts who want to experience the flavour of how the research is done. The book is strongly phylogenetic, and this makes it a source of current data on vertebrate evolution.
Michael J. Benton FRS is Professor of Vertebrate Palaeontology at the University of Bristol. He is particularly interested in early reptiles, Triassic dinosaurs, and macroevolution, and has published over 50 books and 300 scientific articles. He leads one of the most successful palaeontology research groups at the University of Bristol, and has supervised over 60 PhD students.
To many, palaeontology in general, and vertebrate palaeontology in particular, might be seen as devoted to discovering new fossils. After all, we read lavish press reports of each new species of dinosaur, fossil bird, or early human fossil that is recorded in the scientific literature. Discoveries from all continents attract attention, and none moreso than the continuing rich haul of remarkable new fossils from China. Our understanding of fossil vertebrate evolution has been much enriched by continuing discoveries of basal chordates from the Chengjiang and associated exceptional faunas of South China, as well as the feathered birds and dinosaurs from the Jehol assemblages in North China. But, as any young palaeobiologist knows, the discovery of new species is a minor concern. Much more exciting has been the blossoming of new numerical techniques that extend the reach of studies in macroevolution and palaeobiology further than might have been imagined even ten years ago.
When I wrote the first edition of this book in 1989, I felt that there was a need for an up-to-date account of what is known about the history of vertebrates, but also for a thorough phylogenetic framework throughout, then something of a novelty. The first edition was published in 1990. The second edition, substantially modified, appeared in 1997, and the third, further extensively rewritten in 2005. These new editions offered extensive coverage of new discoveries and new interpretations through the previous 15 years. Between 1990 and 2005, the book hopped from publisher to publisher: it was commissioned by Unwin Hyman, who were soon after acquired by Harper Collins, and their science list was in turn acquired by Chapman & Hall, so the first edition appeared under three publishers logos, in 1990, 1991 and 1995. The second edition appeared with Chapman & Hall, but they were then taken over by Kluwer, and this book was marketed by their Stanley Thornes subsidiary for a while, before passing to Blackwell Science in 2000, which is now part of the larger John Wiley & Sons consortium. I hope these wandering days are now over.
The first edition appeared in Spanish in 1995 (Paleontología y evolución de los vertebrados, Edition Perfils, Lleida), the second in Italian in 2000 (Paleontologia dei Vertebrati, Franco Lucisano Editore, Milano), and the third in German in 2007 (Paläontologie der Wirbeltiere, Dr Friedrich Pfeil, München). This is a measure of the international appeal of vertebrate palaeontology and the demand from students and instructors for up-to-date information.
The story of the evolution of the vertebrates, the animals with backbones, is fascinating. There is currently an explosion of new research ideas in the field concerning all the major evolutionary transitions, the origin of the vertebrates, dramatic new fish specimens unlike anything now living, adaptations to life on land, the origin and radiation of dinosaurs and Mesozoic marine reptiles, the evolution and palaeobiology of dinosaurs, the role of mass extinctions in vertebrate evolution, the origin and diversification of birds, the earliest mammals, ecology and mammalian diversification, the Paleogene radiation of modern mammalian clades, reconciling morphological and molecular evidence on bird and mammal evolution,and the origins and evolution of human beings.
I have five aims in writing this book. First, I want to present a readable narrative of the history of the vertebrates that is accessible to everyone, with either a professional or an amateur interest in the subject. The book broadly follows the time-sequence of major events in the sea and on land, so that it can be read as a continuous narrative, or individual chapters may be read on their own. I have tried to show the adaptations of all major extinct groups, both in words and in images.
The second ai