Cover image for History of life
History of life
Cowen, Richard, 1940-
Personal Author:
Third edition.
Publication Information:
Malden, MA : Blackwell Science, [2000]

Physical Description:
xv, 432 pages : illustrations ; 29 cm
Subject Term:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
QE711.2 .C68 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area-Oversize

On Order



History of Life is not just for students, but for everyone interested in the history of life on our planet. Paleontology, the study of ancient life, requires some knowledge of biology, ecology, chemistry, physics and mathematics. However, the average person can have access to it without deep scientific training.

This book serves three audiences: it is an introduction to palaeontology; a general education course that introduces nonspecialists to science and scientific thought; and an introduction to the history of life for biologists who know a lot about the present and little about the past.

The author's aim is ambitious: to take you to the edges of our knowledge in palaeontology; to show you how life has evolved on Earth,;and to explain how we have constructed the history of that evolution from the record of rocks and fossils.

Web page tied to use of book boxes.
Case studies.
End chapter questions.
End chapter references.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

In 20 chapters, Cowen proceeds in a mainly chronological scheme from the origin of life to the spread of humans at the end of the last ice age. Despite his own specialization in fossil invertebrates, only the first five chapters discuss nonvertebrate animals and simpler organisms, tracing the increasing complexity of life and evaluating the origin of sex and the interactions among plate tectonics, earth-surface provinces, and organismal diversity. Six further chapters take vertebrates from the earliest fishes through dinosaurs; another discusses flight, not only in birds but also in other vertebrates and insects. After an introduction to mammals, two chapters examine life in the Mesozoic era and alternative theories of its demise, with only two chapters on most Cenozoic mammals and their environments. Primate and human evolution each receive their own chapter, but this leaves even an anthropologist wondering about equal treatment. The final section evaluates the effects of glaciation on recent world life. Although doggerel verses and an almost MTV-like feeling of jumping among topics in "sound bites" seem too informal at times, the book is generally free of major technical errors and is generally well written. It has very broad coverage, good illustrations, and covers the latest developments. Recommended for all levels. -E. Delson, Herbert H. Lehman College, CUNY

Table of Contents

Prefacep. xii
Chapter 1 The Origin of Lifep. 1
The Formation of the Solar Systemp. 2
Life on Planetary Surfacesp. 3
Reconstructing the Origin of Lifep. 6
Amino Acids
Larger Organic Molecules
Toward the First Living Cellp. 9
The Naked Gene
Where Did Life Evolve?p. 12
Living Thingsp. 13
Energy and Lifep. 14
Organotrophy and Fermentation
Autotrophy: Lithotrophy and Photosynthesis
Further Readingp. 18
Chapter 2 Earth's Earliest Lifep. 21
How Paleobiology Worksp. 23
How Do We Know The Age of a Fossil?p. 24
Earth's Oldest Rocksp. 27
Earth's Oldest Cellsp. 27
Banded Iron Formationsp. 31
The Oxygen Revolutionp. 33
Stromatolites as Evolutionary Forcing Houses
The Superiority of Slime
Further Readingp. 36
Chapter 3 Sex and Nuclei: Eukaryotesp. 37
Symbiosis and Endosymbiosisp. 37
Mitochondria and Their Ancestors
Eukaryotes in the Fossil Recordp. 41
The Evolution of Sexp. 41
Orchids, Eukaryotes, and Game Theory: the Origin of Sex
The Classification of Eukaryotesp. 45
Describing Evolution
Further Readingp. 50
Chapter 4 The Evolution of Animalsp. 51
Proterozoic Protistsp. 51
Evolving Metazoans from Protists: Anatomy and Ecologyp. 52
Evolving Metazoans: Regulatory Genesp. 57
Ediacaran (Vendian) Animalsp. 58
The Evolution of Skeletonsp. 60
The Beginning of the Cambrian: Small Shelly Fossils
Larger Cambrian Animals
The Burgess Faunap. 64
Solving the Cambrian Explosionp. 67
Oxygen Levels
Further Readingp. 71
Chapter 5 Life in a Changing Worldp. 73
The Global Diversity Gradientp. 73
Islands and Continentsp. 76
Provincesp. 77
Diversity Patterns in the Fossil Recordp. 79
Global Tectonics and Global Diversityp. 81
Changing Diversity Through Timep. 83
Three Great Faunas
Faunas and Food Supply
The Rise of the Modern Fauna
Energy, or Nutrients?
Are There Limits on Diversity?
Further Readingp. 89
Chapter 6 Extinctionp. 91
Mass Extinctionsp. 91
Explaining Mass Extinction
The Ordovician Mass Extinction
The Late Devonian (F-F) Mass Extinction
The end-Triassic Mass Extinction
The Eocene-Oligocene Mass Extinction
The Permo-Triassic (P-Tr) Mass Extinctionp. 95
The Siberian Traps
Repeated, Periodic Mass Extinctions?p. 100
Further Readingp. 102
Chapter 7 The Early Vertebratesp. 103
Vertebrate Originsp. 104
Phosphatep. 106
Heterostracansp. 107
Osteostracansp. 109
The Evolution of Jawsp. 110
Cartilaginous Fishes (Sharks and Rays)
Bony Fishesp. 115
Actinopterygians (Rayfin Fishes)
Sarcopterygians (Lobefin Fishes)
Further Readingp. 118
Chapter 8 Leaving the Waterp. 119
The Origin of Land Plantsp. 120
The Earliest Land Florasp. 122
Late Silurian and Early Devonian Plants
Later Devonian Plants
Devonian Plant Ecology
Comparing Plant and Animal Evolutionp. 125
The First Land Animalsp. 126
Rhipidistiansp. 127
Air Breathing
Limbs and Feet: Why Become Amphibian?
The First Amphibiansp. 135
Further Readingp. 138
Chapter 9 Amphibians and Reptilesp. 139
Paleozoic Amphibiansp. 139
Early Amphibians
The First Reptilesp. 143
Why Were the First Reptiles Small?
The Amniotic Eggp. 146
Carboniferous Land Ecologyp. 149
Further Readingp. 151
Chapter 10 Reptiles and Thermoregulationp. 153
The Reptile Radiationp. 154
Pelycosaursp. 155
Pelycosaur Biology and Ecology
How Did Herbivory Evolve in Tetrapods?
Thermoregulation in Reptilesp. 160
Thermoregulation in Pelycosaurs
Permian Changesp. 163
The Invasion of Gondwanaland
Thermoregulation in Therapsidsp. 164
Therapsid Evolutionp. 165
Synapsids and Diapsid Replacements
Further Readingp. 170
Chapter 11 The Triassic Takeoverp. 171
The Diapsid Reptilesp. 171
Late Permian Diapsids
The Triassic Diapsid Takeover: The Patternp. 174
Respiration, Metabolism, and Locomotionp. 176
Thecodontsp. 180
Rhynchosaursp. 182
Dinosaur Ancestorsp. 182
Further Readingp. 183
Chapter 12 Dinosaursp. 185
Theropodsp. 185
Ornithischiansp. 190
Sauropodomorphsp. 192
Dinosaur Paleobiology: Life At Large Sizep. 195
Vegetarian Dinosaurs
Posture and Habitat
Dinosaur Behaviorp. 197
Dinosaur Eggs and Nests
Further Readingp. 201
Chapter 13 Warm-Blooded Dinosaurs?p. 203
Dinosaurs With Feathersp. 204
The Origin of Feathers
Egg Brooding
High-Latitude Dinosaurs
Doubts about Endothermyp. 208
Dinosaur Noses: Turbinates
Behavioral and Passive Thermoregulation
The Answer?p. 210
Size and Metabolic Rates
Cooling Large Herbivorous Dinosaurs
Small Carnivorous Dinosaurs
Further Readingp. 213
Chapter 14 The Evolution of Flightp. 215
Flight in Insectsp. 217
Swimming as a Preadaptation
Basking as a Preadaptation
Parachuting Vertebratesp. 220
Early Gliding Vertebrates
Pterosaursp. 223
Birdsp. 228
The Origin of Birds
The Origin of Powered Flight in Birds
Earlier Bird Evolution?
Cretaceous Birds
Cenozoic Birds
The Largest Flying Birds
Batsp. 237
Further Readingp. 239
Chapter 15 The Origin of Mammalsp. 241
Cynodontsp. 242
Evolving Mammalian Characters
Mammalian Reproductionp. 247
Live Birth
The Invasion of the Nightp. 250
Early Mammalsp. 251
Therian Mammalsp. 254
The Tribosphenic Molar
Marsupials and Placentalsp. 255
The Inferiority of Mammalsp. 257
Further Readingp. 259
Chapter 16 Marine Reptilesp. 261
Turtlesp. 261
Crocodilesp. 262
Ichthyosaursp. 263
Sauropterygiansp. 265
Mosasaursp. 268
Air Breathers At Seap. 268
Further Readingp. 270
Chapter 17 Why Flowers are Beautifulp. 271
Mesozoic Plants and Pollinationp. 272
Magnolias and Moths, Cycads and Beetles
Mesozoic Plants and Seed Dispersalp. 275
Angiosperms and Mesozoic Ecologyp. 278
Ants and Termites
Angiosperm Chemistry
Further Readingp. 281
Chapter 18 The End of the Dinosaursp. 283
An Asteroid or Cometary Impact?p. 284
A Giant Volcanic Eruption?p. 287
Did A Catastrophe Cause the Extinctions?p. 288
Some Impact Scenarios For Extinction
Volcanic Scenarios For Extinction
The Ecology of a Catastrophe
Doubts About Catastrophes
Paleontological Evidence From the K-T Boundary
Oceanographic Changep. 295
Further Readingp. 297
Chapter 19 Cenozoic Mammals: Origins, Guilds and Trendsp. 299
The Evolution of Cenozoic Mammalsp. 301
The Radiation of Mammals: Molecular Studies
The Radiation of Mammals: Molecular Results
The Paleocene
The Eocene
La Grande Coupure
The Oligocene
The Later Cenozoic
Ecological Replacement: The Guild Conceptp. 307
Cenozoic Mammals in Dinosaur Guilds
Creodonts and Carnivores: Ecological Replacement or Displacement?p. 310
The Savanna Storyp. 312
Modern Savannas
Savannas in the Fossil Record
Evolution by Improvementp. 315
Further Readingp. 318
Chapter 20 Geography and Evolutionp. 319
Australiap. 319
New Zealandp. 323
South Americap. 324
Africap. 328
Islands and Biogeographyp. 330
The Raptors of Gargano
Giant Pleistocene Birds on Cuba
Other Biogeographic Islands
From Gondwanaland to Antarcticap. 333
Further Readingp. 335
Chapter 21 Primatesp. 337
Earliest Primates--Are they Dermopterans?p. 338
The Prosimiansp. 338
The Origin of Anthropoidsp. 342
The Late Eocene Primates of Egypt
The New World Monkeys
Emergence of the Hominoidsp. 345
Miocene Hominoids
Further Readingp. 348
Chapter 22 Evolving Toward Humansp. 351
Australopithecinesp. 352
The New Australopithecines
Footprints at Laetoli
Australopithecus afarensis
Australopithecus in South Africa
Robust Australopithecines
Australopithecus garhi, and Butchering Tools
The Appearance of Homop. 357
From Super-Baboon to Super-Jackal
Hominids and Cats in South Africa
Homo erectus
After Homo erectusp. 363
Neanderthals--A Live Issue?
Assessing the New Evidence
Evolution Among Humans Today
Further Readingp. 370
Chapter 23 The Ice Agep. 373
Ice Ages and Climatic Changep. 375
Geography: Isolating the Poles
Reflecting Solar Radiation: The Albedo Effect
Climatic Fluctuation: Glacial Advances and Retreats
The Astronomical Theory
Smaller Cycles and Very Rapid Climatic Fluctuation
The Pleistocene Ice Agep. 381
Climate and Geography During the Ice Agesp. 382
Further Readingp. 384
Chapter 24 Humans and the Ice Agep. 385
Life and Climate in the Ice Agesp. 385
Continental Changes
The Americas
Island Extinctions
Experienced Faunas
The World Todayp. 399
Further Readingp. 402
Appendix Invertebrate Paleobiologyp. 405
Glossaryp. 417
Indexp. 425