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Option 16 - Vertebrate Paleontology

This is the reading list for option 16, 2018-19 - a part III course in vertebrate paleontology lectured by Dave Norman.

Reading List - Option 16 (2019)

Please note that if references are marked with an asterisk (*) , they have been highlighted by your lecturers as being particularly useful to you.

Part III Option 16, Vertebrate Palaeobiology


A. General background textbook

  • Pough, FH Janis, CM & JB Heiser (2012 – 9th edn). Vertebrate Life Prentice Hall/Cummings (Interesting mix of biology and palaeontology – worth dipping into and much less turgid than Benton)
  • Benton, MJ (2015). Vertebrate Palaeontology. Blackwells. (Generalised overview of the whole course, but superficial in too many respects)

B. Useful textbooks (next few lectures)

  • Janvier, P. (1996). Early vertebrates. Oxford University Press. (Detailed perspective on the whole thing)
C. Background (might be worth just skimming through)
  • Jefferies, RPS. (1986). The ancestry of the vertebrates. British Museum (Natural History). The ultimate book on "calcichordates" – contains some interesting stuff (systematics, chordate anatomy/development, echinoderm anatomy and palaeontology … as well as his philosophy)
  • Gee, H. (1996). Before the backbone. Chapman and Hall. (Lots of background, and far too much about "calcichordates" [he was obviously a convert to the idea] but you get plenty of general discussion about the controversy)


D. Some specific references for today’s lecture:

  • Telford, Budd & Philippe (2015). Phylogenomic insights into Animal Evolution. Current Biology 25: R879-887.
  • Cameron, C.B., Garey, J.R. & Swalla, B.J. (2000). Evolution of the chordate body plan: new insights from phylogenetic analysis of deuterostome phyla. PNAS 97: 4469-4474.
  • Garcia-Fernandez, J. & Holland, P.W.H. (1994). Archetypal organisation of the amphioxus Hox gene cluster. Nature 370: 563-566 (see News and Views in the same issue for a far more digestible version of what this is about).
  • Shu, D-G. et al (2003). Head and backbone of the Early Cambrian vertebrate Haikouichthys. Nature 421: 526-529. (Cambrian chordate discoveries).
  • Dominguez, P., Jacobson, A.G. & Jefferies, R.P.S. (2002). Paired gill slits in a fossil with a calcite skeleton. Nature 417: 841-844. (a sort of … “I told you so!” by Dick Jefferies).
  • Conway Morris & Caron (2012). Pikaia gracilens Walcott, a stem-group chordate from the Middle Cambrian of British Columbia. Biol. Rev. 87: 480- 512.
  • Han, J et al (2017). Meiofaunal deuterostomes from the basal Cambrian of Shaanxi (China). Nature 542: 228-231. doi:10.1038/nature21072

E. Other stuff possibly worth looking at:

  • Bourlat, S.J et al. (2006). Deuterostome phylogeny reveals chordates and the new phylum Xenoturbellida. Nature 444: 85-88.
  • Quental, T.B & Marshall, C.R. (2010). Diversity dynamics: molecular phylogenies need the fossil record. TREE 25: 434-441.


Some specific textbooks:

  • **Janvier, P. (1996) Early vertebrates. Oxford University Press (good ref)
  • Ahlberg, PE (ed) (2001) Major events in early vertebrate evolution. Taylor & Francis (dip into)

General textbooks:

  • Kardong, KV (2002). Vertebrates. Comparative anatomy, function and evolution. McGraw Hill.
  • Liem, Bemis, Walker & Grande (2001). Functional anatomy of the vertebrates. Harcourt
Some specific references:
  • Donoghue, PCJ, Forey, PL & Aldridge, RJ (2000) Conodont affinity and chordate phylogeny. Biological Reviews 75: 191-251. (The definitive story – Nope! see Murdock et al (below).
  • **Murdock, Dong, Repetski, et al (2013). The origin of conodonts and of vertebrate mineralized skeletons. Nature 502: 546-549. Note also the News & Views by Phil Janvier in same issue: p. 457-8 for another view.
  • Friedman M & Brazeau (2010). A reappraisal of the origin and basal radiation of the osteichthyes. J. Vert. Paleo. 30: 36-56.
  • **Mallatt, J (1996) Ventilation and the origin of jawed vertebrates. Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society 117: 329-404. (Looong paper, extract basic message rather than fine detail – lecture refers to this stuff)


Useful books:

  • **Janvier, P (1996). Early vertebrates. Oxford University Press
  • Pough, FH Janis, CM & Heiser, JB (2012). Vertebrate Life. Prentice Hall
  • *Benton, M (2015). Vertebrate Palaeontology. Blackwells

Specific references:

  • **Ahlberg, PE (ed) (2001). Major events in early vertebrate evolution. Taylor Francis (various views and commentaries – to dip into only).
  • **Friedman, M & Brazeau, MD (2010). A re-appraisal of the origin and basal radiation of the osteichthyes. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 30: 36-56.


Useful textbooks:

  • **Clack JA (2012). Gaining ground. Indiana University Press.
  • *Laurin, M (2010). How vertebrates left the water. Univ California Press. (Interesting and somewhat philosophical counterpoint to Clack)
  • Shubin N (2009). Your inner fish. Penguin. (Accessible account, stressing his own discoveries – of course!).

Specific references:

  • Coates, MI (1995). Fish fins or tetrapod limbs – a simple twist of fate? Current Biology 5: 844-848. (Evo-devo of limb origins from fins).
  • Coates, MI (1996). The Devonian tetrapod Acanthostega gunnari Jarvik: poscranial anatomy, basal tetrapod interrelationships and patterns of skeletal evolution. Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh: Earth Sciences 87: 363-421.
  • Ruta M, Coates MI, Quicke DLJ (2003). Early tetrapod relationships revisited. Biological Reviews 78: 251-345. (Horrendously long & complex ... skim?).
  • Daeschler EB, Shubin NH, Jenkins FA (2006). A Devonian tetrapod-like fish and the evolution of the tetrapod body plan. Nature 440: 757-763 (and the next article in the same issue of this journal on the structure/function of the forelimb).

The thought-provoker:

  • Carroll RL (1970). Quantitative aspects of the amphibian-reptilian transition. Forma et Functio 3: 165-178. Great rarity today – photocopies in the lab. He may be wrong; however, I just think that this is an intellectually interesting and genuinely palaeobiological approach fusing the biology and habits in animals living today that inhabit the ‘transition zone’ between water and land, a pattern (size change) seen in the FR and detailed anatomical evidence from living and fossil taxa). Question he tries to answer: How do you tell the type of egg and animal lays from the shape of its ears?

Some 'extras':

  • Janis & Farmer (1999). Proposed habitats of early tetrapods: gills, kidneys and the water-land transition. Zool J Linn Soc 126: 117-126. (Nice ‘outside the box’ thinking on the subject – predicted things that proved to be true).
  • Pierce, Clack & Hutchinson (2012). Three-dimensional limb joint mobility in the early tetrapod Ichthyostega. Nature 486: 523-626. (Using ‘hi-tech’ to tell us what we pretty-much already knew?)
  • Pierce, et al (2013). Vertebral architecture in the earliest stem tetrapods. Nature 494: 226-229. (More hi-tech insights into how vertebrae were constructed in gravitationally challenged fishes – poses more questions than it answers).
  • Nyakatura et al (2019). Reverse-engineering the locomotion of a stem amniote. Nature 565: 351-355. (As it says on the tin! Tracks, the fossil (digitized), living animal locomotion all drawn together …)


Useful textbooks:

  • Sumida S & Martin KLM (1997). Amniote origins. Academic Press
  • *Pough, Janis & Heiser (2012). Vertebrate Life. Prentice Hall
  • Benton (2015). Vertebrate Palaeontology. Blackwells.

Thought-provoking references on the biology/physiology of transition:

  • *Janis CM & Keller JC (2001). Modes of ventilation in early tetrapods: costal aspiration as a key feature of amniotes. Acta Palaeontologica Polonica 46: 137-170 (long-winded – pun not intended – interesting observations on amniote biology and evolution).
  • *Farmer C & K Sanders (2010). Unidirectional airflow in the lungs of alligators. Science 327: 338-340. (Ah ha! so it is likely that basal archosaurs had efficient lungs as well ... so what does that tell us?) – some varanids (lepidosauromorphs) may also have unidirectional lungs
  • **Yang et al. (2019) Pterosaur integumentary structures with complex featherlike branching. Nature (ecology & evolution) 3: 24-30.


Useful textbooks:

  • *Brusatte S (2012) Dinosaur paleobiology. Wiley-Blackwell
  • Fastovsky D & Weishampel D (2005) The evolution and extinction of the dinosaurs. Cambridge University Press.
  • Curry-Rogers K & Wilson J (2005). The Sauropods: evolution and paleobiology. California University Press
  • Norman D (2017). Dinosaurs – a very short introduction. (2nd ed). Oxford University Press. (well? … must be rubbish!)

Specific references:

  • Sereno P (1999). The evolution of Dinosaurs. Science 284: 2137-2147. (A succinct review – but this is ‘Sereno-world’ view)
  • *Godefroid et al. (2014). A Jurassic ornithischian dinosaur from Siberia with both feathers and scales. Science 345: 451-455.
  • *Baron, Norman & Barrett (2017). A new hypothesis of dinosaur relationships and early dinosaur evolution. Nature 543: 501-506. (stirred things up nicely! Matt Baron will be giving a seminar soon)
  • Langer et al (2017). Untangling the dinosaur family tree. Nature E1-E3 (Nov. 2017). (A desperate attempt by a self-styled “international consortium of experts” to prove us wrong! See our reply).
  • *Rayfield, Norman et al (2001). Cranial design and function in a large theropod dinosaur. Nature 409: 1033. (Engineering design to the rescue? A bit ancient now, but this was the beginning of a completely new era of research)
  • *Brasier, Norman, Liu et al (2017). Remarkable preservation of brain tissues in an Early Cretaceous iguanodontian dinosaur. Geological Society of London, Special Publications, 448 (As it says on the tin!)
  • *Sander, et al (2011). Biology of the sauropod dinosaurs: the evolution of gigantism. Biological Reviews 86: 117-155.
  • Gatesy S (1990). Caudifemoral musculature and the evolution of theropod locomotion. Paleobiology 16: 170-186. (Establishing how theropod dinosaurs might have become bird-like)
  • *Xu et al. (2014). An integrative approach to the understanding of bird origins. Science 346: 1341 summary & (issue 6215 - 8 pages). Gives you a 'heads-up' for the later lecture as well.

Soft Tissues

  • Chin, K et al (1998). A king-sized theropod coprolite. Nature 393: 680-682. (see also News and Views in same issue).
  • Varricchio, DJ (2001). Gut contents from a Cretaceous tyrannosaurid: implications for theropod digestive tracts. J. Paleontology 75: 401-406.
  • Rothschild BM et al (1997) Tyrannosaurs suffered from gout. Nature 387: 357
  • Schweitzer MH et al. (1994). Heme compounds in dinosaur trabecular bone. PNAS 94: 6291-6296.
  • Schweitzer MH & JR Horner (1999). Intravascular microstructures in the trabecular bone tissues of Tyrannosaurus rex. Annales de Paléontologie 85: 179-192.
  • Schweitzer MH et al (2005). Soft-tissue vessels and cellular preservation in Tyrannosaurus rex. Science 307: 1952-1955.
  • Schweitzer MH et al (2007). Analyses of soft tissue from Tyrannosaurus rex suggest the presence of protein. Science 316: 277-280.
  • Schweitzer MH, Wittmeyer JL & JR Horner (2005). Gender-specific reproductive tissue in ratites and Tyrannosaurus rex. Science 308: 1456-1460.
  • Asara JM et al (2007). Protein sequences from Mastodon and Tyrannosaurus rex revealed by mass spectrometry. Science 316: 280-285. (see the subsequent technical discussion/criticism that followed)
  • Organ CL et al (2008). Molecular phylogenetics of Mastodon and Tyrannosaurus rex. Science 320: 499. (refuting the refutations!).
  • Barrick RE & Showers WJ (1994). Thermophysiology of Tyrannosaurus rex: evidence from Oxygen isotopes. Science 265: 222-224 (see also comment on page 188).
  • Eagle, RA, et al (2011). Dinosaur body temperature determined from isotopic (13C-18O) ordering in fossil biominerals. Science 333: 443-445.


Useful textbooks:

  • *Brusatte S (2012) Dinosaur paleobiology. Wiley-Blackwell
  • *Fastovsky D & Weishampel D (2005) The evolution and extinction of the dinosaurs. Cambridge University Press.
  • Norman (2017). Very short introduction to Dinosaurs. OUP.

Some specific references relating to:


  • Norman D & Weishampel D (1985). Ornithopod feeding mechanisms: their bearing on the evolution of herbivory. Am. Naturalist 126: 151-164. (A ground-breaker!)
  • Farlow J (1987). Speculations about the diet and digestive physiology of herbivorous dinosaurs. Paleobiology 13: 60-72. (General review)
  • Barrett P & Willis K (2001). Did dinosaurs invent flowers? Dinosaurangiosperm co-evolution revisited. Biological Reviews 76: 411-447.
  • Piperno, DR & H-D Sues (2005). Dinosaurs dined on grass. Science 310: 1126-1128. (Predictable, but still unexpected)
  • Holliday & Witmer (2008). Cranial kinesis in dinosaurs: intracranial joints, protractor muscles and their significance for cranial evolution and function in diapsids. J. Vertebr. Paleo. 28: 1073-1088. (Looks technical suggests we were wrong, but in fact it says … nothing!)
  • *Williams V, Barrett P, Purnell, M (2009). Quantitative analysis of dental microwear in hadrosaurid dinosaurs – jaw mechanics and feeding. Proc Natl Acad Sci 106: 11194-11199. OK – we were right!
  • Bell, Snively & Shychoski (2009). A comparison of jaw mechanics in hadrosaurid and ceratopid dinosaurs using FEA. The Anatomical Record 292: 1338-1351. (Not so useful, a bit boring!)
  • *Erickson et al. (2012). Complex dental structure and wear biomechanics in hadrosaurid dinosaurs. Science 338: 98-101. Good
  • Barrett P (2014). Paleobiology of herbivorous dinosaurs. Ann. Rev. Earth Planet Sci 42: 207-230. (rather tedious summary).
  • Mallon & Anderson (2014). The functional and palaeoecological implications of tooth morphology and wear for megaherbivorous dinosaurs .. PlosONE 9 (6) e98605. (Rather too long for its own good)

Depending upon how time elapses (or I get distracted) – we may make start on this topic …


  • O'Connor P & L Claessens (2005). Basic avian pulmonary design and flowthrough ventilation in non-avian theropod dinosaurs. Nature 436: 253-256. (a ground-breaking paper)
  • *Farmer C & K Sanders (2010). Unidirectional airflow in the lungs of alligators. Science 327: 338-340. (Ah ha! so basal archosaurs may have possessed unexpectedly efficient lungs as well ... ?)
  • Benson R et al (2012). Air-filled postcranial bones in theropod dinosaurs: physiological implications and the ‘reptile’-bird transition. Biological Reviews 87: 168-193. (What it says on the tin!)

Lecture 8. THE ‘ULTIMATE’ DINOSAURS - BIRDS Useful textbooks:

  • *Gauthier, J & LF Gall (2001). New perspectives on the origin and early evolution of birds. Proceedings of the international symposium in honour of John H Ostrom. Peabody Museum, Yale University.
  • *Brusatte S (2012) Dinosaur paleobiology. Wiley-Blackwell
  • Fastovsky D & Weishampel, D (2005). The evolution and extinction of the dinosaurs. Cambridge University Press.
  • Norman (2017) … well, maybe?

+ a little intellectual excursion into evolutionary theorizing: 'correlated progression' - an approach concerning the question of how to turn a large thermally inert reptile into a small mammal (or a bird) if you allow yourself to think ‘outside the box’ ...

  • *Kemp TS (2005). The origin and evolution of mammals. Oxford Univ Press.

Some specific references (bird origins):

  • Huxley TH (1870). Further evidence of the affinity between the dinosaurian reptiles and birds. Quart. J. Geol. Soc. Lond. 26: 12-31. (He got it! – but nobody realised what he’d done until Ostrom came at it again!)
  • Ostrom JH (1976). Archaeopteryx and the origin of birds. Biol J Linn Soc London 8: 91-182. (Finally nails Heilmann and back to Huxley).
  • *Gatesy SM (1995). Functional evolution of the hindlimb and tail from basal theropods to birds. Functional morphology in vertebrate paleontology (Ed. JJ Thomason. Cambridge Univ Press.
  • Ji & Ji (1996). On the discovery of the earliest fossil bird in China (Sinosauropteryx gen. nov) and the origin of birds. Chinese Geology, 233: 30-33. (The ground-breaker - the first report of feathered theropods from China).
  • Currie, PJ & Chen, PJ (2001). Anatomy of Sinosauropteryx prima from Liaoning, northeastern China. Canadian J Earth Sci. 38: 1705-1727. (just a bit of tedious anatomical detail since nothing was done after Ji & Ji).
  • *Gatesy, SM & K. Dial (1996). Locomotor modules and the evolution of avian flight. Evolution 50: 331-340. (Excellent piece of work)
  • Gatesy SM & K. Dial (1996). From frond to fan: Archaeopteryx and the evolution of short-tailed birds. Evolution 50: 2037-2048 (the same story)
  • *Dial K (2003). Wing-assisted inclined running and the evolution of flight. Science 299: 402-404. (neat idea and some biology of living critters).
  • Padian K & Chiappe LM (1998). The origin of birds and their flight. Scientific American (February): 28-37. (Fairly standard review – a bit aged now)
  • *Wagner GP & J Gauthier (1999). A solution to the problem of the homology of the digits in the avian hand. PNAS 96: 5111-5116. (seems a bit improbable … but who knows? … also a critique by Feduccia in same issue)
  • Xu, X. et al (2004). Basal tyrannosauroids from China and evidence of protofeathers in tyrannosauroids. Nature 431: 680-684. (Well, of course!)
  • Xu, X & M. Norell (2004). A new troodontid dinosaur from China with an avian-like sleeping posture. Nature 431: 838-841. ( … like, well … yah!)
  • *Xu X et al. (2009). A Jurassic ceratosaur from China helps clarify avian digital homologies. Nature 459: 940-944. (Really? Well, it depends whether you can go with their anatomy).
  • *Benson et al (2015) Rates of dinosaur body mass evolution indicate 170 million years of sustained ecological innovation on the avian stem lineage. PloS Biol 12(5): e10011853). (Modelling the FR – by another of my former PhD students).
  • *Xu et al. (2014). An integrative approach to understanding bird origins. Science 346: 1341 & 1253293 (review) – very useful summary.
  • Xu, et al. (2015). A bizarre Jurassic maniraptoran theropod with preserved evidence of membranous wings. Nature 521: 70-73. (Rather too bizarre for words!)
  • Lockley et al. (2016). Theropod courtship: large-scale physical evidence of display arenas and avian-like scrape ceremony behaviour by Cretaceous dinosaurs. Sci Rep 6: 18952; doi: 101038/srep18952.