i-ee02981897b9708cb24992d4a0b4c4da-0470656662-thumb-300x390-66229.jpgLiving Dinosaurs: The Evolutionary History of Modern Birds is an academic anthology of key writing about bird evolution. There are two main things that distinguish this book: 1) It includes quite a bit on fossils and their bearing on bird evolution, a refreshing change from DNA-based phylogenies which can by and large only address later questions of bird evolution; and 2) It includes a lot more about the early evolutionary context of birds (such as in the context of theropods) than one usually sees, rather than the diversification of birds per se, though it does address the latter as well.

The book offers an excellent summary of our the current state of knowledge of the origin and evolution of birds. Avian palaeontology had developed in fits and starts, with some of the most important work being done at the very same time as the beginnings of modern evolutionary biology (TH Huxley wrote the key monograph on the first recognized bird fossils), with long periods of relative quiet, then sudden re-evaluations of avian evolution recurring with new discoveries. A modern perspective of bird evolution is quiet different from what dominated even a couple of decades ago. Living birds are a single stem of a diverse radiation of forms within the dinosaurs, with our feathered friends of the present being a very limited representative of that ancient diversity. This, of course, is why the book focuses so much more on fossils than DNA; Direct genetic data is simply unavailable to address these questions.

This edited volume (Gareth Dyke and Gary Kaiser editors) is divided into three main parts. Part one deals with deep evolutionary time, addressing Therapod diversity and Mesozoic avian divergences; The second part addresses the early diversification of modern birds and the Avian tree of life; Part 3 looks at key Avian adaptations such as flight, the interesting and the unique bird brain. Then there is fourth part that serves to tie it all together, addressing the state of living birds and the future of Avian diversity.

This is an academic book and the price reflects this. It’s about $130 list, though the link I provide above will get you a copy of this baby at far less ($90 bucks or so). This may require a trip to the library if you find this interesting!

If you are interested in birds and dinosaurs, have a look at “Are Birds Really Dinosaurs?” at 10,000 Birds.

Comments

  1. #1 gwen
    June 15, 2011

    VERY COOL!! I have been looking for a book on this subject! Is it in e-book or audio format? I’m trying to cut down on my hard bound book collection, but this looks worth having around!

  2. #2 gwen
    June 15, 2011

    I ordered it. They actually had links for books under $80.00

  3. #3 Pete Moulton
    June 16, 2011

    I want this book! And I’ve wanted it since Gary Kaiser let out a teaser in a comment thread over at Tet Zoo a year ago.

  4. #4 Darren Naish
    June 18, 2011

    Nice to see your review, Greg (I’m due to review it myself at Tet Zoo, but not just yet). I have to say that I disagree with your statement that the book is “primarily about the evolutionary context of birds in the context of theropods”. Of the 16 chapters, three (3) are about putting birds within the context of the theropod radiation, and of those three one is a large scale analysis of Mesozoic bird phylogeny. So, this volume will be of primary interest to people interested in Cenozoic birds alone, not to those more concerned with the Mesozoic side of things. It’s not just about fossils, either: several chapters are on aspects of modern avian anatomy and one of the best chapters is on current trends and what we can extrapolate about the future.

  5. #5 Greg Laden
    June 19, 2011

    Darren, I probably overstated the emphasis on earlier periods, thanks for pointing that out.