The evolutionary synthesis today: an essay on paleontology and molecular biology
Published:January 01, 1986
Everett C. Olson, Clifford F. Brunk, 1986. "The evolutionary synthesis today: an essay on paleontology and molecular biology", Vertebrates, Phylogeny, and Philosophy, Kathryn M. Flanagan, Jason A. Lillegraven
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From the introduction of the synthetic theory of evolution in the late 1930s and 1940s until the 1960s, the study of evolution was cast largely within its tenets. Starting in the 1960s changes, primarily introduced by paleontologists, began to have an impact. Although gradualism and phenotypic selection are still prominent, ideas of stasis, punctuation, and heirarchical selection have suggested that revisions of the synthetic theory may be necessary. Molecular biology and molecular evolution have developed in parallel with studies of phenotypic evolution during the last forty years. For the most part these two lines of investigation have remained discrete, although an increasing number of investigators is applying data and concepts from both fields. This convergence is particularly apparent in studies of rates of molecular clocks and the relationship between changes in the genome and changes in the phenotype. As a better understanding of the relationship between the genome and the phenotype emerges, an enlargement or possible abandonment of some aspects of the synthetic theory of evolution may prove necessary. Thus, the synthetic theory is presently being reshaped by data and concepts originating in areas as diverse as paleontology and molecular biology.
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Vertebrates, Phylogeny, and Philosophy
Dr. George Gaylord Simpson, one of the most important evolutionary biologists of the Twentieth Century, was born on June 16, 1902 and died on October 6, 1984. His contributions to science include not only a modern synthesis of evolutionary thought, but original research on anthropology, mammalogy, paleontology, general biology, and statistics. His prolific writings were intended for scientific and non—scientific communities alike. He helped and encouraged many who now work in the fields of paleontology and evolutionary biology. Contributors to this book dedicate their efforts as tribute to his memory.
Included authors are colleagues, former students, and friends of Dr. Simpson’s. They represent but a few of the people he would have included in these categories. The book is intended to suggest only a sampling of the diversity of George Gaylord Simpson's impact on present vertebrate paleontology, from its most senior to its very junior participants.
Ms. Flanagan’s letter of invitation entreated the following from potential authors: "In the spirit of Dr. Simpson’s own writings, we encourage imaginative contributions that would be just a little different from items expected in a regular scientific journal." The title of the volume (Vertebrates, Phylogeny, and Philosophy) reflects that request. Though individual articles deal almost exclusively with fossil mammals, emphases cross the spectrum of evolutionary biology, including systematic paleontology, considerations of adaptation, ontogeny, analyses of evolutionary tem— po and mode, biogeographic procedure, and paleogeography. Philip Gingerich’s contribution stresses the crucial importance of solid empirical research to the foundations upon which theoretical/philosophical writings should be based. Mesozoic and Cenozoic taxa are considered, and two articles discuss the modern union of molecular biology, genetics, and paleontology. Most articles benefited directly from the pioneering writings of George Simpson, yet the breadth of concerns of this volume covers only a small fraction of the interests exhibited in his lifetime of evolutionary research.
Kathryn Flanagan served as principal correspondent with authors and reviewers. Jason Lillegraven had principal responsibility for manuscript editing and considerations of production.
We take this opportunity to thank the thirty-two authors for their contributions. Similarly, more than fifty individuals served as unpaid reviewers, and we give our most sincere thanks for their generosity of time and effort. Also, we thank Linda E. Lillegraven for creating the cover design.