Thursday, August 04, 2005

605: EVOLUTION: Sumptuous Survey of Hexapod History -- Jarzembowski 309 (5736): 880 -- Science

EVOLUTION: Sumptuous Survey of Hexapod History -- Jarzembowski 309 (5736): 880 -- Science:

If the number of described species is a measure of success, then insects (with nearly 1 million) are the most successful group of all time. And if the number of families known from the fossil record is a proxy for past biodiversity, then insects (with more than 1200) are also the most diverse paleo group. Insects have only existed for 11% of the duration of life on Earth. Yet in that time, they have pervaded all terrestrial ecosystems and evolved social organization several times. They conquered the air long before any flying vertebrate and have outlasted trilobites and dinosaurs. They pollinate our crops and arguably gave us our greatest laboratory animal, Drosophila. Love them or hate them, we have evolved alongside them.

There are a number of good entomology books on the market. Few, however, have integrated the living and fossil record as seamlessly as David Grimaldi and Michael Engel's Evolution of the Insects. None, moreover, has combined this integration with so much student-friendly text and such a wealth of illustrations (more than 900). The book shows that lavish photography and lucidity need not be the prerogative of popular entomology and that segregation of entomology and paleoentomology is tantamount to intellectual apartheid. While looking good, Evolution is no coffee-table adornment. Weighing in at 2.92 kg, it is the western challenger to History of Insects (1), a multiauthored, English-language account by Russian paleoentomologists. That work, which highlighted the fossil insect riches of Asia, is unashamedly phylistic; its approach to evolutionary relationships combines cladogenesis and evolutionary divergence. Evolution offers a cladistic treatment rooted in the Hennigian tradition--as one would expect from the previous contributions of Grimaldi (a curator of invertebrate zoology at the American Museum of Natural History) and Engel (a paleoentomologist at the University of Kansas). This methodological difference influences the interpretation of the evolutionary history of insects (e.g., the longevity of groups like caddisflies and cockroaches).

Evolution of the Insects by David Grimaldi, Michael S. Engel

Sounds like a good book.