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Sensory Evolution on the Threshold

Adaptations in Secondarily Aquatic Vertebrates

J. G. M. "Hans" Thewissen (Editor), Sirpa Nummela (Editor)

Available worldwide

Hardcover, 358 pages
ISBN: 9780520252783
February 2008
$85.00, £62.95
Other Formats Available:
From crocodiles and penguins to seals and whales, this comprehensive and authoritative synthesis explores the function and evolution of sensory systems in animals whose ancestors lived on land. Together, the contributors explore the dramatic transformation of smell, taste, sight, hearing, balance, mechanoreception, magnetoreception, and electroreception that occurred as lineages of amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals returned to aquatic environments. Each chapter integrates data from fields including sensory physiology, anatomy, paleontology, and neurobiology. A one-stop source for information on the sense organs of secondarily aquatic tetrapods, Sensory Evolution on the Threshold sheds new light on both the evolution of aquatic vertebrates and the sensory biology of their astonishing transition.
J. G. M. Thewissen, Professor of Anatomy at Northeastern Ohio Universities College of Medicine, is editor of The Emergence of Whales: Evolutionary Patterns in the Origin of Whales and coeditor, with William F. Perrin and B. Würsig, of The Encyclopedia of Marine Mammals. Sirpa Nummela is Academy Research Fellow at the University of Helsinki in Finland.
"A 'state of the science' exposition and synthesis of sensory organ evolution, discussed in a phylogenetic context. This is a source book of basic knowledge on the comparative anatomy and physiology of the senses, and a 'must read' for all biologists interested in the way animal sense organs, ecology, and evolution interact."—Annalisa Berta, San Diego State University, co-author of Marine Mammals: Evolutionary Biology, 2nd edition.

"There are no better examples of evolution than the spectacular returns of land vertebrates to the sea. There is no better way to study secondarily aquatic adaptations by vertebrates of terrestrial ancestry than by analyses of the function and evolution of their sensory organs and systems. This remarkable volume, drawing from diverse studies of sensory systems in the context of evolutionary analyses, offers a first-rate integration of evolutionary studies with studies of sensory functional adaptation. Each case of land vertebrates returning to aquatic life represents an independent run of a similar evolutionary experiment. Studies of these examples in convergent evolution are powerful tools to unveil the common processes at work in evolutionary transition. Thewissen and Nummela have compiled the best summaries of very diverse topics, all framed by the rigorous study of evolution. They have presented a multidisciplinary field in an interdisciplinary volume."—Zhe-Xi Luo, Curator of Vertebrate Paleontology, Carnegie Museum of Natural History

"This book represents integrative biology at its best. It takes a specific topic, the sensory adaptations of vertebrates secondarily adapting to life in the water, and provides a fascinating overview. It is broad phylogenetically as it covers all the vertebrate special senses, and it is comparative as it details the parallel adaptations of wildly different taxa. Each part in the volume, focused on a different sense, is introduced by an excellent introductory chapter on the basic physics and physiology of that sense. These introductions are then followed by clear discussions of specific adaptations required in the transition to water from air. The book will serve as a fine resource for those interested in sensory evolution, vertebrate senses or the adaptations to water, and it admirably meets its stated goal of being a useful resource on the vertebrate senses for evolutionary biologists, and evolution for the sensory biologists."—Kathleen K. Smith, Duke University, Director of The National Evolutionary Synthesis Center

"What a nice book! I like the combination of short reviews with longer chapters reporting original research...the book is a landmark and a must for any evolutionary biologist considering the return of tetrapods to the sea. It's comprehensive, well-organized and insightful."—William F. Perrin, co-editor of the Encyclopedia of Marine Mammals

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