Evolution of island mammals—adaptation and extinction of mammals on islands, by Alexandra van der Geer, George Lyras, John de Vos and Michael Dermitzakis. Wiley-Blackwell, Oxford, 2010. No. of pages: 479. Price: UK£47.50. ISBN 978-1-4051-9009-1 (hardback).
Article first published online: 4 MAR 2013
Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
Volume 49, Issue 3, pages 329–330, May/June 2014
How to Cite
McFarlane, D. A. (2014), Evolution of island mammals—adaptation and extinction of mammals on islands, by Alexandra van der Geer, George Lyras, John de Vos and Michael Dermitzakis. Wiley-Blackwell, Oxford, 2010. No. of pages: 479. Price: UK£47.50. ISBN 978-1-4051-9009-1 (hardback). Geol. J., 49: 329–330. doi: 10.1002/gj.2498
- Issue published online: 5 MAY 2014
- Article first published online: 4 MAR 2013
- Manuscript Received: 4 FEB 2013
- Manuscript Accepted: 4 FEB 2013
Natural scientists have a long-standing fascination with islands that pre-dates even the famous explorations of Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace in the 19th century. This reflects in large part the fact that islands have often served as crucibles for rapid or extreme evolutionary phenomena. This volume is an excellent compilation of the evolutionary record from islands and archipelagoes around the world. It should be noted, however, that this book focuses only on the Cenozoic fossil record of mammalian evolution on islands. This makes it of potential interest to the readership of the Geological Journal, but perhaps rather less so to evolutionary biologists who might be surprised at the absence of any treatment of the extensive literature on evolutionary processes in extant island mammals. This is particularly true of the chapter on evolutionary trends in insular rodents, which would have been strengthened by a comparison of the fossil record with the research on microevolution of living island rodents.
The book comprises three sections; a short but succinct introduction to islands and the history of research thereon, a series of geographic case studies, and a final synthetic section on taxonomic patterns and evolutionary processes. The geographic chapters are perhaps the most valuable part of the book, providing thorough and well-researched summaries of the faunas of 16 important island groups. Given the background of the authors, it is unsurprising that Mediterranean islands are particularly well covered and occupy more than 40% of the total geographic coverage. By comparison, the whole West Indies region is summarized in just 12 pages. The European emphasis notwithstanding, there are some odd omissions, such as Gibraltar, which has yielded a rich Pleistocene mammalian record (including internationally significant Neanderthal human remains) but is not included, and neither is the island of Jersey whose Belle Hougue cave excavations have produced important insights into the rapidity of island dwarfing in deer. Of particular note to readers is that the British Isles are not covered at all—presumably the authors felt that the island was too large (although Madagascar, at more than twice the area of Britain, is sensibly given a chapter of its own). This is unfortunate because the British record of Cenozoic mammal evolution and extinction is rich and important.
The section on processes and patterns provides useful comparisons across geographically separate island groups. For example, I know of no other book that brings together material on taxonomic patterns (for example, the many separate examples of elephants on islands) from around the world. The sections on the speed of evolution, and on island dwarfism and gigantism, are too brief for such important topics and I hope they will be expanded in future editions.
This book is an important addition to the library of any Quaternary mammalian palaeontologist and will likely be useful to those whose interests extend back deeper into the Cenozoic. The book is well illustrated and very well researched, with an excellent set of references. I suspect that it will become the starting point for many future researchers and research projects.