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Convergent Evolution

Limited Forms Most Beautiful

George McGhee

Publication Year: 2011

An analysis of convergent evolution from molecules to ecosystems, demonstrating the limited number of evolutionary pathways available to life.

Published by: The MIT Press

Series: Vienna Series in Theoretical Biology


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Series Page, Copyright Page, Dedication

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-viii

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Series Foreword

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pp. ix-x

Biology is becoming the leading science in this century. As in all other sciences, progress in biology depends on interactions between empirical research, theory building, and modeling. But whereas the techniques and methods of descriptive and experimental biology have evolved dramatically in recent years, generating a flood of highly detailed empirical data...

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Preface: Limited Forms Most Beautiful

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pp. xi-xii

In 1859, Charles Darwin concluded his momentous book On the Origin of Species by musing on the grandeur of the evolutionary view of life: “ from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful . . . have been, and are being, evolved ” (Darwin 1859, 490). A century and a half after Darwin published those words, many evolutionary biologists are questioning...

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Chapter 1. What Is Convergent Evolution?

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pp. 1-12

A porpoise looks like a fish. It has a fusiform, streamlined body like that of a swordfish or a tuna. It has four fins on the ventral side of its body, instead of four legs. It has a large fin at its posterior end, instead of a tail. And it even has a vertical fin centered on its back, so it looks very much like a shark when it is swimming through the water toward you...

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Chapter 2. Convergent Animals

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pp. 13-92

Some of the most spectacular examples of convergent evolution are clearly due to the functional constraints of locomotion. Consider one of the most frequently cited cases of convergent evolution: the astonishing morphological similarity between the extinct Mesozoic marine reptile Ichthyosaurus platyodon and the living marine mammal Phocaena phocaena, the harbor porpoise, ...

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Chapter 3. Convergent Plants

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pp. 93-134

The reverse of the old adage “ not seeing the forest for the trees ” — the condition in which people overlook a larger overall pattern because they are too narrowly focused on individual particulars — is “ not seeing the trees for the forest. ” The trees in a forest do vary — an oak tree is different from a maple tree — but the apparent similarity of tree form that can...

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Chapter 4. Convergent Ecosystems

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pp. 135-176

Imagine a universe in which there are an unlimited number of ways to make a living. In such a universe, each species would have its own unique way of making a living, different from all other species. When we examine the ecological structure of living organisms on Earth, we can clearly see that we do not inhabit such a universe...

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Chapter 5. Convergent Molecules

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pp. 177-208

The source code for all life on Earth is contained in the deoxyribonucleic- acid molecule, DNA. DNA codes for RNA molecules, ribonucleic acids, and RNA codes for the assembly of amino acids into proteins, the building blocks of life. Each of the essential molecules of life has a finite number of possible states. Since DNA and RNA molecules contain...

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Chapter 6. Convergent Minds

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pp. 209-244

How can minds be said to converge? We consider our mental states to be a function of our brain structures and sensory inputs. At first glance, then, organisms with radically different brain structures would be expected to have radically different minds. Take, for example, the brains of a magpie and a human. One is a bird brain, possessed by an avian...

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Chapter 7. Functional and Developmental Constraint in Convergent Evolution

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pp. 245-264

Albert Einstein once mused, “ What really interests me is whether God could have made the world in a different way. ” To Einstein, God represented the laws of nature. He was asking whether the evolution of the universe was so constrained by the initial conditions of the Big Bang, by...

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Chapter 8. Philosophical Implications of Convergent Evolution

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pp. 265-278

Most scientists tend to ignore philosophers. In evolutionary biology, the scientist Ernst Mayr (1964, xi – xii) traced this tendency back to Charles Darwin himself: “ No one resented Darwin ’ s independence of thought more than the philosophers. How could anyone dare to change our...

Appendix: A Phylogenetic Classification of Life

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pp. 279-286


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pp. 287-302

Index of Common Names

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pp. 303-308

Index of Species

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pp. 309-318

Index of Topics

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pp. 319-322

E-ISBN-13: 9780262298872
E-ISBN-10: 0262298872
Print-ISBN-13: 9780262016421
Print-ISBN-10: 0262016427

Page Count: 336
Illustrations: 8 line drawings, 80 tables
Publication Year: 2011

Series Title: Vienna Series in Theoretical Biology