Vertebrates: Comparative Anatomy, Function, Evolution
If you are a student coming to the study of vertebrates for the first time, several introductory remarks may be helpful, especially on how this textbook will support your work. First, the discipline of vertebrate biology is diverse and inclusive. It brings together themes from molecular biology, genes and genomes, evolution and embryology, biomechanics and experimental physiology, and it incorporates continuing and astonishing new fossils into the vertebrate story. Much of what you have met in earlier courses you will meet again here in an integrated way.
Second, to unify these themes, I have again written and revised this eighth edition within the unifying framework of form, function, and evolution. The first few chapters set this up, and the subsequent chapters treat vertebrates system by system. You may notice that each of these subsequent chapters begins with a discussion of morphology, followed by a discussion of function and evolution. Each chapter is therefore self-contained—form, function, evolution.
Third, as a student you likely enter this course after some background in the sciences, perhaps expecting to equip yourself with practical knowledge useful later in professional schools or in health-related careers. Certainly, this course, in part, delivers such practical information. But because vertebrate morphology is an integrative discipline, it brings together physiology, embryology, behavior, and ecology and also deploys modern methods of systematics and new finds in paleontology. Consequently, you will move beyond memorizing facts in isolation or as an end in themselves and instead begin to meet and understand larger concepts to which the morphology testifies. What may come as a surprise is that many theories, especially evolutionary theories within vertebrate biology, are still unsettled and unresolved, inviting a new idea or fresh approach open to anyone. This is one of the reasons I have included various controversies and support your efforts to become engaged in the thinking and scientific process.
For faculty who have used this textbook before, you will find it retains a familiar and inviting organization with the science updated and the student support enhanced. For those coming to this textbook for the first time, you will notice that the morphology receives generous treatment within a phylogenetic context. But today we expect our students to develop academic and professional skills beyond just facility with anatomical terminology. In general, we expect our students to develop skills in critical thinking and a facility with scientific concepts. Each of us will find our own way of composing a course in vertebrate morphology that serves such course objectives. This textbook was written to support such course objectives as individual instructors build their courses. It is flexible. You can mix and match, change order to suit your course, and give emphasis to those systems that most suit the organization of your course. Because each chapter integrates form, function, and evolution pertinent to that system, each chapter is coherent within itself. Where information or concepts are treated in greater detail outside a particular chapter, they are cross referenced to help guide the student and clarify the discussion. Although discussed in earlier editions, let me repeat the specific strategy built into this textbook to improve student success and to help them develop skills in critical thinking and conceptual understanding
For the Student
A number of strategic features within the textbook enhance its usefulness for students. It is richly illustrated with figures that include new information and provide fresh perspectives. Each chapter opens with an outline. Important concepts and major anatomical terms are boldfaced. Cross references direct students to other areas of the text where they can refresh their understanding or clarify an unfamiliar subject. Each chapter concludes with a chapter overview, which draws attention to some of the concepts developed within the chapter. Box Essays are included along the way in most chapters. Their purpose is to present subjects or historical events that students should find interesting and, perhaps from time to time, even fun. A glossary of definitions is included at the end of the book.
In addition to its practical features, the textbook also uses selected topics within vertebrate structure to develop student skills in critical thinking and mastery of concepts within a coherent framework.
Within the sciences, critical thinking is the ability to marshal factual information into a logical, reasoned argument. Especially if accompanied by a laboratory, a course in vertebrate morphology delivers hands-on experience with the anatomy of representative animals. Students can be directly engaged in the discovery of vertebrate form. But they can be encouraged to go beyond this. Instructors can lead students into larger issues: How does it function? How did it evolve? For example, early on in the textbook, students are introduced to “Tools of the Trade,” methods by which we empirically examine how parts work and how we can place organisms within a phylogenetic context. After a discussion of basic morphology, each chapter discusses how these systems work and how they evolved. I have deliberately included new, neglected, or competing views on function and evolution. Many of these ideas come from Europe, where they have been known for a long time. Personally, I find many of these ideas compelling, even elegant. Others strike me, frankly, as thin and unconvincing. Despite my own skepticism, a few contrary ideas are included. My purpose is to get students to think about issues of form, function, and evolution.
Several theories on the evolution of jaws are discussed, as are several theories of the origin of paired fins. Often students expect that today we have the final answers. Students implore, “Just tell me the answer.” The debate about dinosaur physiology is a wonderful opportunity to show students the ongoing process of scientific investigation. Most have seen the Hollywood films and expect the issue settled. But we know that science is an ongoing process of refinement, challenge, and sometimes revolutionary change. One Box Essay sets forth the early case for dinosaur endothermy. That debate spawned further investigation that now returns to challenge such a view of dinosaurs as “hot-blooded” beasts. The second Box Essay on dinosaur endothermy presents this newer and contrary evidence, and thereby showcases how, even in extinct animals, it is possible to test hypotheses about their physiology, morphology, and lifestyles.
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