THE SAUROPODS: EVOLUTION AND PALEOBIOLOGY
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EVOLUTION AND PALEOBIOLOGY. Kristina A. Curry Rogers and Jeffrey A. Wilson
(eds). 2005. The University of California Press, Berkeley, California. ISBN 978-0-52024623-2
(hard cover). 358 p. $65.00 (hard cover).—The giant sauropods have captured the
imagination of the public since their discovery. Their enormous size and
morphological oddities embody the exotic nature of dinosaurs and present
conundrums of physiology and biomechanics that have, for decades, challenged
scientists who study them. The monophyly of sauropods as a group is
unquestioned (Upchurch, 1998; Wilson and Sereno, 1998; Wilson, 2002; Upchurch
et al., 2004), and their close relationship to prosauropods as an ancestral
taxon is likewise robustly supported. However, relationships within the clade
are less clear, a problem exacerbated by fragmentary remains and missing or
incomplete skull material that would be diagnostic. Evolutionary relationships
aside, this dinosaurian taxon poses many questions that were thought to be
unanswerable. However, in the book The Sauropods, edited by K. Curry-Rogers and
J. Wilson, many of these issues are addressed, and new light is being shed, not
only on relationships, but on many aspects of the paleobiology of the group as
a whole. New techniques, analytical approaches, and comparisons, coupled with
new sauropod discoveries, are beginning to provide answers to questions
regarding growth strategies (Chapter 11), feeding mechanisms and strategies
(Chapters 4–6), behavior (Chapter 9) and even reproduction (Chapter 10). Most
chapters in the multi-authored book end with a heartfelt dedication to Jack
MacIntosh, whose unfailing passion for this wonderful group of animals has
inspired many present and future generations of scientists. I am not a
morphologist, or an expert in phylogenetic analyses, and sauropods are not the
focus of my research. But I love dinosaurs, and I will not soon forget the
pleasure of sitting next to Jack at a dinner after one of many meetings
celebrating dinosaur diversity. I have never met a nicer, more humble, kind,
warm human being—a rarity among academics devoted to obscure and esoteric
studies, including paleontology. Jack’s passion for sauropods was and is
immediately apparent, but his childlike curiosity for all things dinosaurian is
captivating—and motivating as well. He has a gift for encouraging beginning and
‘old guard’ scientists alike, and his enthusiasm radiates to all who study any aspect
of dinosaur science. These accolades to an exceptional scientist, and more, a
wonderful human being, and the high praise and recognition of his contributions
to this discipline, are richly deserved. The book ranges from overly technical
in places to an almost folksy discussion of topics. The early chapters in this
book are dedicated to the history of scientific investigation of the sauropods,
and to the evolutionary relationships between sauropod clades and of sauropods
to other dinosaurian taxa. The copious reference list at the end of every
chapter provides a comprehensive summary of work done in the area discussed,
and provides a wonderful starting place for students of dinosaur biology
interested in any area of study. Chapter 1 is a thorough description of
diagnostic characters that nest the sauropod clade within Saurischia, and that
diagnose individual clades within Sauropoda. It also presents a brief history
of the attempts to classify this group of dinosaurs and the various methods
employed to do so. It also discusses the various ‘defining’ characters of
sauropods, including elongation of cervical vertebrae and adaptations of the
limbs to a columnar stance, requirements for terrestrial animals of such great
mass. Chapter 2 embraces the outlandish and bizarre features of titanosaurs,
arguably one of the most successful of sauropod linages, and describes the
geographical and temporal distributions of this clade. CurryRogers segues
nicely from the phylogenetic overview of sauropods presented in Chapter 1 to a
narrower cladistic analysis of characters defining the titanosaurs within the
sauropods. The discussion and diagnosis of Rapetosaurus krausei as a ‘keystone
titanosaur’ provides some resolution to the phylogenetic and evolutionary
picture of this dominant, widespread, diverse clade. The list of diagnostic
characters provided in the appendix is impressive, and forms a robust framework
for future phylogenetic hypotheses as new specimens are discovered and
described. An informative discussion of fluctuating patterns of sauropod
diversity is the focus of Chapter 3. The attempts to distinguish taphonomic
artifacts from true evolutionary trends is thoughtful and emphasizes the need
for consideration of sedimentary and stratigraphic context when attempting to
discern true extinction and/or diversification events vs. number of
opportunities to observe.
THE SAUROPODS: EVOLUTION AND PALEOBIOLOGY
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