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Developmental Plasticity and Evolution 1st Edition

17 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0195122350
ISBN-10: 0195122356
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Editorial Reviews


"This book does not propose a radical departure from current evolutionary theory; rather it is a truly novel synthesis of evolutionary and developmental biology that is sure to profoundly affect the way biologists view the natural world. A must-read for any serious student of evolution and a must-have for any biological literature collection."--Choice

About the Author

Mary Jane West-Eberhard is at Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 816 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (March 13, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195122356
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195122350
  • Product Dimensions: 10 x 1.7 x 7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,072,733 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

49 of 52 people found the following review helpful By Michal Polak on June 17, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Developmental Plasticity and Evolution by Mary Jane West-Eberhard is an enormously important contribution to the modern (neo-Darwinian) theory of organic evolution. It presents a new way of understanding evolution. The book teaches us how environmental induction of purely phenotypic events, including learning, can drive evolution, and why a plastic and modular phenotype should replace mutation at the center stage of evolutionary thinking. It is my prediction that this book will precipitate a revolution in thought within biology, but that this will take time, as has any major new idea. Biologists in all fields related to evolution are encouraged to read this work.
The book contains a masterful synthesis of biological facts and theories on the broadest of scales. It unites all disciplines within the biological sciences. It is not, however, merely an impressive review. Rather, it captures a vast collection of data and brilliantly organizes it around a set of fundamental principles about development and evolution from which the main messages of the book are crystallized. Whereas many of the concepts may be described as relatively simple, contemplating the connections between them, as well as their overall unification, becomes an infinitely more challenging and fascinating task. It is from this unification that West-Eberhard's coherent theory of development and evolution blossoms. Expertly guiding the reader from individual concepts to coherent theory, West-Eberhard captures our imagination at every twist and turn, and catapults the reader's mind in a myriad of unexpected directions. The writing is crisp, clean and captivating.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 12, 2003
Format: Paperback
This book is meant to educate - to lead away from the sterile debates of causation as NATURE OR NURTURE. It is a monumental achievement by a careful thinker (recent recepient of the SSE's Sewall Wright award), and it will likely change the way you think about how genes and environments interact through development to affect phenotypic expression. If you have ever been confused about ideas in evolutionary process and how phenotypes arise, this is a book you should read. West-Eberhard's treatment of the more-difficult ideas is comprehensive - with enough examples to appeal to the backgrounds of most readers. The book is full of wonderful details of animal behavior, plant biology, the social wasps West-Eberhard has watched her whole life, and much, much more. It will spark much new research - perhaps for decades to come. It will become a citation classic. She has taken on one of the more contentious of all modern debates. For that, for her exhaustive discussion, and for the power of her conclusions, she will be criticized and rediculed. Take my advice: buy the book, read it, think about what it says, and decide for yourself . I think West-Eberhard's achievement is an awesome contribution.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Charles E. Nydorf on January 3, 2006
Format: Paperback
Darwin developed his theory of evolution without knowing much about the mechanisms of heredity. These mechanisms were rediscovered in the 1900's as part of the science of genetics. By the 1930's a school of evolutionary thinkers came to the realization that Darwin's theory could be further developed by recasting it in terms of population genetics. The resulting synthetic theory of evolution has ruled mainstream biology ever since. But genetics has not stood still in the meantime. The rise of molecular biology has made possible a new discipline, evo-devo which seeks to explain how the genes control development. Evo-devo has developed a new approach to evolution. While the synthetic theory tended to see evolution as a matter of the loss of old genes within a population or the fixation of new ones, evo-devo has found that large parts of the genome are conserved over vast periods of time and shared by widely divergent phyla. Evolution has produced diversity by modifying the mechanisms which control the expression of these ancient genes. New ideas are now required to explain how this kind of diversity evolves. West-Eberhard proposes that genetic control mechanisms can be exposed to selection by the phenotypic adaptation of organisms to new kinds of environmemt. This phenotypic adaptation ultimately drives evolution. The germ of this idea had been put forward by J. Baldwim more than one hundred years ago but neither Baldwin or anybody else knew about evo-devo and the idea had little influence. Now its time may have come.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Derek Roff on July 8, 2004
Format: Paperback
For any evolutionary biologist interested in how evolutionary events are molded and modulated by phenotypic plasticity and developmental processes this book is a "must have". It is a huge, widesweeping review and synthesis of the problem of development and evolution. It will remain as the benchmark for the field for many years. No one can approach this subject without having read this book. In perspective it ranges from the molecular to the macroevolutionary, but always manages to maintain a highly readable style.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 26, 2004
Format: Paperback
For me, West-Eberhard's Developmental Plasticity and Evolution is the most far reaching integration of evolution, ecology and development since Darwin's Origin of Species. This is not merely a review of the literature, it is a book with a definite point of view. In the preface she writes: " The universal environmental responsiveness of organisms, along side genes, influences individual development and organic evolution, and this realization compels us to reexamine the major themes of evolutionary biology in a new light". Like The Origin of Species, this book is meticulous in bringing evidence to bear on each issue. Meticulous does not mean boring! The lucid prose is full of passionate intensity and you follow the author's thinking as you both grapple with each challenge. Along the way, we learn a lot of fascinating biology used as examples to bolster particular ideas.
Who should read this book? Anyone interested in understanding the forces at work in the origin and nature of biodiversity. Undergraduates and graduate students with few vested interests in maintaining narrow disciplinary approaches are the most likely to truly enlarge their world view from reading this work. Will you agree with everything in this large and courageous book? Probably not. Just as we are constantly examining Darwin's propositions, this book challenges us to defend and expand our current thinking. Understanding the interrelations of genes, developmental processes and ecology and their consequences for evolution is an ongoing task and this is the kind of book to shape the discourse in the emerging evo-eco-devo integration for at least a generation to come.
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