Download On Methuselah's Trail: Living Fossils and the Great by Peter Douglas Ward PDF

By Peter Douglas Ward

On Methuselah's path tells the tale of a few of the Earth's such a lot amazing population residing fossils. Labelled 'living fossils' through Darwin, the traditional animals and vegetation Peter Ward explores have survived with very little switch the cataclysmic occasions that remodeled existence in the world. those 'Methuselahs' can let us know a lot in regards to the background of lifestyles and concerning the nice extinction classes within which such a lot of different species died out.

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By Peter Douglas Ward

On Methuselah's path tells the tale of a few of the Earth's such a lot amazing population residing fossils. Labelled 'living fossils' through Darwin, the traditional animals and vegetation Peter Ward explores have survived with very little switch the cataclysmic occasions that remodeled existence in the world. those 'Methuselahs' can let us know a lot in regards to the background of lifestyles and concerning the nice extinction classes within which such a lot of different species died out.

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Additional resources for On Methuselah's Trail: Living Fossils and the Great Extinctions

Sample text

Such evolution in ecological time is often termed microevolution. Eldredge and Gould's theory of punctuated equilibrium proposes that the changes that accumulated slowly during ecological time are of so little c o n s e q u e n c e that they rarely produce speciation; speciation events o c c u r quickly, in a burst of morphological change, followed by a long period of stasis. Whichever model is c o r r e c t — a n d many evolutionists now think that both types of evolutionary change can o c c u r — e v o l u t i o n proceeds over time spans that vary from years to centuries.

The apparently sudden appearance of trilobites and brachiopods was surely trying for Charles Darwin. He devoted a section of one of his chapters in The Origin of Species to this enigma. Darwin's problem was quite clear. According to his theory of evolution, creatures as complex as these arthropods and brachiopods required many millennia of evolution to reach such a stage of development. Yet, in section after stratigraphic section, no intermediate forms were ever found. Instead of strata containing fossils as complex as trilobites lying immediately atop strata barren of fossils, Darwin e x p e c t e d to find intervening strata showing fossils of increasing complexity until finally trilobites appeared: 30 ON METHUSELAH'S TRAIL he expected to see the slow, step-by-step progression to the trilobite shape preserved in the fossil record.

For most Precambrian time they flourished in shallow seas around the globe. Then, mysteriously, they began to disappear, not long before the first appearance of the early Cambrian trilobite and brachiopod fauna. We now have reasonably precise radiometric dating of the disappearance of the stromatolites. Somewhere about 8 0 0 million years ago their numbers began to diminish, until very few were left to fossilize. Several explanations have been offered as to why the stromatolites virtually disappeared.

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