Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Evolution of Island Mammals

Our book on the Evolution of Island Mammals, Adaptation and Extinction of Placental Mammals on Islands is out! Wiley-Blackwell published it this August. For a quick overview of contents and artwork, visit the online library of Wiley (move mouse over book cover shown to the right of this post). A second option is simply to order it.

If you are interested in the evolution of insular mammals, from the Eocene walking sirenian (Pezosiren portelli) of Jamaica to the recently extinct Falkland Wolf or Fox (Dusicyon australis) of the Falkland Islands and the still living island fox (Urocyon littoralis) of the Californian Channel Islands, this book is a must. It offers a complete overview of all fossil and most recently extinct mammals that once upon a time lived on islands somewhere on our planet. They were fully adapted to their environment, and often evolved bizarre features, like elongated, club-like antlers with hardly any tines (the deer Candiacervus of Crete), ever-growing front teeth (the bovid Myotragus of Majorca), enormous size (the cavia-like Amblyrhiza of the West Indies) or pygmy size (the hominid Homo floresiensis of Flores).

Unfortunately, the majority of them went extinct, often after spectacular long periods of gradual evolution in situ, when mainland colonisers discovered the islands and their fauna. Today, just a few islanders survived, in comparison with the number of islanders of the remote past. Their special features are unique, but in most cases less spectacular than seen in the fossil record, when elephants could shrink till a mere one or two percent of the body mass of their ancestral size (as in the case of Elephas falconeri).

To have an idea of how extreme evolution can be, you have to see the fossil islanders!