The Evolutionary History of Nematodes as Revealed in Stone, Amber and Mummies. Nematology Monographs and Perspectives. Volume 9 . . ( eds . David Hunt & Roland N. Perry ). 429 pp. €139. ISBN 978-90-04-17521-1 . Leiden, The Netherlands : Koninklijke Brill NV , 2011 (hardback ).
Nematodes are one of the most abundant groups of invertebrates on the face of the earth and have probably maintained this position since their origin, which could well have been in the Precambrian eon. The diverse reproductive methods of nematodes, as well as the ability of many nematodes to form resistant stages that can withstand complete or partial desiccation are also a key to their success. While nematodes are abundant today and certainly were so in the past, their fossil record is very limited. Their small size, soft bodies and concealed habits contribute to the scarcity of nematode fossils, since they are difficult to locate, hard to recognise and few scientists are studying them. This book is a useful publication that provides a comprehensive overview and an in-depth summary and review of the fossil records of nematodes from sedimentary deposits, coprolites, amber and mummies, including descriptions of 31 new fossil genera and 66 new fossil species. Throughout its 12 chapters, this book presents summarized and specialized information on various key aspects of different exciting areas of the evolutionary history of nematodes. The chapters are: Types of preservation; Systematic treatment of fossil nematodes; Nematodes from the Precambrian; Nematodes from the Palaeozoic; Nematodes from the Mesozoic; Nematodes from the Tertiary; Nematodes from Pleistocene and Holocene remains; Dubious nematode fossils; Nematode artefacts; Nematode time lines; and Functional morphology and the behaviour of fossils.
This is a very good book. The text is well written and the author’s approach and choice of illustrations makes this book a valuable tool for those involved in the fields of nematology, paleontology, parasitology, evolution and ethology. The first two chapters are particularly interesting for readers who are less familiar with the study of nematode fossils, and include details of the preservation media (amber, rock deposits, trace fossils, coprolites), as well as the methodology for the study of systematics of fossil nematodes. The next sections report critically the first nematode fossil records from the possible ancestors in the Precambrian to the nematode fossil records of the Mesozoic and Tertiary, including the first record of a plant-parasitic nematode fossil in the Paleozoic, the Devonian plant parasite Palaeonema. The section on nematodes from the Tertiary includes an excellent and wide range of free-living and parasitic nematodes occurring in this period with excellent pictures from Baltic amber. The chapter on nematode time lines is a brilliant section dealing with problems evaluating nematode fossils, studies of longevity and extinctions of nematode lineages, nematode origins and origin of parasitism in nematodes, together with invertebrate parasitism, vertebrate parasitism, plant parasitism, as well as the use of host fossils to estimate the origin of nematode parasites. Nematode parasites of higher plants, such as tylenchids, aphelenchoids, longidorids and trichodorids are suggested to have occurred by the Carboniferous and the Triassic. The last chapter analyses the functional morphology and behaviour of fossil nematodes, revealing the feeding habits of nematode fossils, reproductive behaviour, fossil evidence of nematode disease (such as the nematophagous fungi occurring in Oligoaphelenchoides atrebora), as well as nematode fossils paleosymbiosis (phoresis, commensalism, mutualism and parasitism). Finally, the book includes an appendix with a practical and comprehensible taxonomic description of known and new fossil nematode taxa, giving readers all necessary information concerning morphological descriptions, type host and locality, as well as some comments comparing with extant nematodes; and another appendix with a practical key to identify nematode fossils described in the book.
In summary, the author is to be congratulated for his initiative and achievement in the production of such an enjoyable book that is well written, coherent and presented in a clear and logical format useful for scientists, teachers, students, interested in paleonematology at large and in the evolutionary history of nematodes in particular. Furthermore, the extensive reference list provides the reader with an excellent starting point for further research.