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Bringing Fossils to Life

Bringing Fossils to Life: An Introduction to Paleobiology

Copyright Date: 2013
Edition: 3
Pages: 672
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  • Book Info
    Bringing Fossils to Life
    Book Description:

    One of the leading textbooks in its field,Bringing Fossils to Lifeapplies paleobiological principles to the fossil record while detailing the evolutionary history of major plant and animal phyla. It incorporates current research from biology, ecology, and population genetics, bridging the gap between purely theoretical paleobiological textbooks and those that describe only invertebrate paleobiology and that emphasize cataloguing live organisms instead of dead objects. For this third edition Donald R. Prothero has revised the art and research throughout, expanding the coverage of invertebrates and adding a discussion of new methodologies and a chapter on the origin and early evolution of life.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-53690-5
    Subjects: Paleontology, Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, Biological Sciences

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VI)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. VII-VIII)
    (pp. IX-X)
    Donald R. Prothero
    (pp. XI-XVI)

      (pp. 3-25)

      When we pick up fossils in a roadcut or see a dinosaur skeleton in a museum, we have no problem connecting it to some sort of extinct organism. We have been conditioned since our early education to interpret fossils as remains of extinct organisms, and it is hard for us to imagine any other explanation.

      Centuries ago, however, such an interpretation was not automatic or even easy to make. The ancient Greeks interpreted the giant bones of mammoths as the remains of mythical giants, but were puzzled by seashells found hundreds of feet above sea level and miles inland. Had...

      (pp. 27-47)

      If you make a collection of fossils from a quarry or roadcut, the first thing you will notice is that no two specimens are exactly identical (fig. 2.1). If you sort them into clusters that seem to be the same kind, you will notice variations in size, shape, preservation, and many other features. What is the significance of this variation? How much is due to differences in age and growth between specimens? How much is due to differences between individuals in the same population? How much is due to postmortem breakage and distortion? How much can be attributed to the...

      (pp. 49-59)

      In the previous chapter, we discussed the sources of variation of natural living populations and how they are reflected in fossil populations. All this variation clearly occurs within genetically related populations of individuals. Throughout this discussion, another question lurked in the background: How much variation is normal for individuals within a population, and how much variation can be attributed to individuals belonging to a different species?

      This question is not simply a matter of deciding what to name a specimen. The species is the fundamental taxonomic unit in nature, the only such category that has biological reality. How we determine...

      (pp. 61-87)

      In the previous chapter, we focused on the meaning of an important category in nature: the species. How are species grouped into larger categories? How are classification schemes set up, and what do they mean? The science of classifying is known as taxonomy (Greek: “laws of order”); any named grouping of organisms (a species, a genus, etc.) is called a taxon (plural: taxa). Deciding how to name a new species and genus may seem to be a highly specialized, legalistic dimension of biology and paleobiology, not nearly as glamorous as ecology or behavior or physiology. But taxonomy is not just...

      (pp. 89-109)

      When Charles Darwin publishedOn the Origin of Speciesin 1859, he started a scientific revolution that transformed the amateurish field of “natural history” into the modern scientific profession of biology and forever changed how we view ourselves as well. Prior to 1859, it was still possible (although increasingly difficult) to interpret life, fossils, and geology as evidence of the book of Genesis. After 1859, not only the scientific community but virtually all educated people had to come to terms with the fact that all life is interrelated, and humans are descended from other forms of life, not supernaturally created....

      (pp. 111-131)

      As naturalistic interpretations of fossils became more prevalent after the work of Steno and Hooke, natural historians worried that many of these “petrifactions” bore no resemblance to any living organism. Until the mid-1800s, no one knew of a living relative of the strange ammonites or the odd cylinders we call crinoid stems. Yet the idea that these strange fossils might represent animals that were now extinct was rejected by most natural historians. The whole concept of extinction went against several deeply held Christian dogmas, such as the notion of Divine Providence. An omnipotent, benevolent God would never let a creature...

      (pp. 133-157)

      Since the time of Aristotle, one of the central problems of comparative biology has been determining the function of a particular anatomical form. Another related problem was determining how organisms reached their present forms. Both of these aspects of the problem of form and function have puzzled the greatest minds in biology for many centuries (Russell, 1916). In 1802, the Reverend William Paley wrote an entire book,Natural Theology, which marveled at the perfection of design in nature and attributed it all to a divine designer. This explanation was extremely popular among devout natural historians, but as a scientific explanation...

      (pp. 159-193)

      In the 1960s and 1970s, ecology was one of the hottest ideas in Western culture. Everyone was aware of conserving resources and recycling, and many important steps were taken and laws were passed to help our environment. The word “ecology” became such a popular buzzword that it was used far beyond its original biological meaning of the interaction of organisms and their environment. Anything that was good was “ecological,” and advertisers managed to attach the word to all sorts of products that were not friendly toward the environment. Paleontologists are no less a product of their culture, so they too...

      (pp. 195-219)

      Biogeography is the study of the geographic distribution of organisms and how they got to be where they are found today. As a scientific discipline, it has some very unusual characteristics. Very few biology departments have a formal position for a biogeographer (although biogeographers sometimes find work in geography departments), and few institutions teach courses in biogeography. For most of the last century, there was no specialized journal, professional society, or separate scientific meeting for biogeography. (Only since the 1970s has theJournal of Biogeographybecome established, and an International Biogeographical Society was established with a meeting every other year)....

      (pp. 221-242)

      In the late 1700s, the founders of geology were just beginning to decipher the pattern of strata in the rock record. Certain widespread, easily recognized rock units, such as the “Coal Measures” or the “Chalk” could be traced over much of northern Europe and the British Isles, and the superpositional sequence of the rock units in each area could be described and worked out (fig. 10.1). Fossils were collected and described from these strata when they were available, but the description of rock units was the primary focus. Most natural historians were still operating under the assumption that these strata...


      (pp. 245-269)

      How did life first begin? This has long been one of the most fascinating and challenging problems in all of human thought. It was a question that intrigued the ancient Greek and Roman philosophers and scientists. Among the common misconceptions of these people was the notion of spontaneous generation. Even as late as the early 1800s, people still thought that life was magically generated from nonlife. After all, flies mysteriously appeared on rotting meat, or broth became spoiled and no one had seen another creature touch it. Finally, Louis Pasteur undertook a famous series of experiments in 1861. He put...

    • CHAPTER 12 MICROPALEONTOLOGY: Fossil Protistans
      (pp. 271-301)

      Before we examine the record of megascopic fossils, we must look at the smallest and simplest of fossils, the microfossils. As Berggren (1978) put it, “by definition micropaleontology, the study of microscopic fossils, cuts across many classificatory lines. It includes within its domain the study of large numbers of taxonomically unrelated groups united solely by the fact that they must be examined with a microscope” (p. 1). Micropaleontology includes some fossil plants (pollen grains), a variety of animals (including the ostracode crustaceans, the planktonic gastropod molluscs known as pteropods, and the conodonts, now thought to be related to chordates), prokaryotic...

    • CHAPTER 13 COLONIAL LIFE: Sponges, Archaeocyathans, and Cnidarians
      (pp. 303-321)

      In the previous chapter, we studied organisms that were all single-celled. Each cell carries out all its own necessary functions (feeding, respiration, reproduction, excretion), and none were specialized for a single purpose. A few protistans, such asVolvox, form a colonial ball of cells, but each cell is functionally independent of the others. In this chapter, we consider the next level of organization—animals that live as multicellular colonies or organisms, but do not yet have elaborate, fully developed digestive, respiratory, reproductive, or excretory systems. They differ from the Protistans in that they are clearly heterotrophic multicellular animals (Metazoans), but...

    • CHAPTER 14 THE ʺLOPHOPHORATESʺ: Brachiopods and Bryozoans
      (pp. 323-347)

      In the previous chapters, we discussed organisms with various levels of cellular organization, such as the single-celled protistans, the colonial but essentially independent sponge cells, and the cnidarians, with their specialized tissues (but no organs). The next step in organismal evolution is a worm-like organism that has definite head and tail ends (and with those, a one-way digestive tract running from mouth to anus), which means that it also has a right and a left side (bilateral rather than radial symmetry). Such organisms can actively seek their food and move with a purpose, rather than waiting for their food to...

    • CHAPTER 15 JOINTED LIMBS: The Arthropods
      (pp. 349-383)

      Humans regard themselves as the most successful and dominant animals on the planet, but by almost any criterion, the flies, cockroaches, and other arthropods rule the earth. In the oceans, crustaceans are hugely abundant, and during the early Paleozoic, so were the trilobites (fig. 15.1). Whether you define success by diversity, ecological variety, or just sheer numbers, this is the “Planet of the Arthropods.” This was true when they first appeared about 540 m.y. ago, and so it will remain long after humans are gone.

      In terms of species or any other taxonomic level, arthropods are by far the most...

      (pp. 385-431)

      When we think of marine invertebrates, we usually think of seashells, which are the product of the molluscs, including the clams, snails, and many other animals. Molluscs have long had an important role in human society. Many cultures have prized mollusc shells, using them for money, tools, containers, musical devices, fetishes, or decoration. Collecting and displaying seashells is still a big business today, turning many people into amateur malacologists (people who study molluscs or their shells). Humans eat a great variety of “shellfish” (mostly clams, oysters, and scallops), and many people consider abalone, conch, squid (calamari), octopus, and land snails...

    • CHAPTER 17 SPINY SKINS: The Echinoderms
      (pp. 433-463)

      After the arthropods and molluscs, the echinoderms are the third most commonly skeletonized phylum in the marine realm. Unlike the other two phyla, however, echinoderms have no respiratory system or mechanism for osmotic regulation, so they cannot survive outside marine waters. There are no freshwater or terrestrial echinoderms (a few species are known from brackish water), nor does it appear that they have ever occupied those niches in the past. Nevertheless, within the marine realm, echinoderms can be extraordinarily abundant. As Sir David Attenborough points out in the epigraph above, sea stars can multiply to plague proportions very quickly, with...

    • CHAPTER 18 DRY BONES: Vertebrates and Their Relatives
      (pp. 465-557)

      In the previous chapters, we examined the major phyla of invertebrates that have a good fossil record. These are the primary subject matter of most invertebrate paleontology classes, and the study of fossil vertebrates is usually relegated to another, more advanced, graduate-level course, or seldom taught in colleges at all. However, many general paleontology classes are now beginning to cover both the vertebrates and invertebrates, and the discussion in this book is meant to give a broad overview of chordate evolution. Certainly, the lack of courses on fossil vertebrates is not for lack of interest. Dinosaur paraphernalia is a huge...

      (pp. 559-575)

      Paleontologists traditionally have focused on the skeletal and shelly remains of organisms (body fossils), but in recent years, they have come to appreciate the importance of trace fossils: sedimentary structures formed by organisms, such as trackways, trails, borings, and burrows. Trace fossils are also known as ichnofossils (ichnosis “trace” in Greek) or biogenic sedimentary structures. The study of trace fossils has many important applications. Sedimentary geologists use them as powerful tools for interpreting sedimentary environments and paleobathymetry (see Pemberton et al., 1992; Prothero and Schwab, 1996). Structural geologists can use them to determine where the top of the bed...

      (pp. 577-606)

      As animals ourselves, we humans tend to focus our attention on other animals and to ignore plants entirely (unless we have a personal interest in farming or gardening or botany or a vegetarian diet). Likewise, most people interested in prehistoric life care only about the large and glamorous and spectacular, whether it be dinosaurs or trilobites. Fossil plants are usually relegated to the background of dioramas (if they are even considered at all), often with hilarious inaccuracy. Even within the world of professional paleontologists, those who study fossil animals or animal-like plankton greatly outnumber paleobotanists.

      Yet despite our animal-centric tendencies,...

    (pp. 607-618)
    (pp. 619-656)
  9. INDEX
    (pp. 657-672)