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Good Reads  Evolutionary Biology  Evolution

The Evolution Underground Burrows, Bunkers, and the Marvelous Subterranean World Beneath Our Feet

Popular Science
By: Anthony J Martin(Author)
429 pages, 24 plates with 49 colour photos and colour illustrations
Publisher: Pegasus Books
The Evolution Underground is a joyful read that digs deep into the evolutionary history of burrowing animals.
The Evolution Underground
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  • The Evolution Underground ISBN: 9781681776569 Paperback Feb 2018 Not in stock: Usually dispatched within 1 week
  • The Evolution Underground ISBN: 9781681773124 Hardback Mar 2017 Out of Print #233748
Selected version: £12.99
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About this book

Humans have "gone underground" for survival for thousands of years, from underground cities in Turkey to Cold War-era bunkers. But our burrowing roots go back to the very beginnings of animal life on earth. Without burrowing, the planet would be very different today. Many animal lineages alive now – including our own – only survived a cataclysmic meteorite strike 65 million years ago because they went underground.

On a grander scale, the chemistry of the planet itself had already been transformed many millions of years earlier by the first animal burrows, which altered whole ecosystems. Every day we walk on an earth filled with an under-ground wilderness teeming with life. Most of this life stays hidden, yet these animals and their subterranean homes are ubiquitous, ranging from the deep sea to mountains, from the equator to the poles.

Burrows are a refuge from predators, a safe home for raising young, or a tool to ambush prey. Burrows also protect animals against all types of natural disasters: fires, droughts, storms, meteorites, global warmings – and coolings. In a book filled with spectacularly diverse fauna, acclaimed paleontologist and ichnologist Anthony Martin reveals this fascinating, hidden world that will continue to influence and transform life on this planet.

Customer Reviews (1)

  • A joyous read
    By Leon (NHBS Catalogue Editor) 2 Feb 2018 Written for Paperback

    An underground lair... which child didn't daydream about it? As a child, I spent several summer holidays with friends constructing one. Granted, we didn't really burrow, we dug a pit and put a roof back over it. Even so, if I am to believe Anthony J. Martin, I am but one in a long line of burrowing animals. With The Evolution Underground, Martin paints a surprising picture of the underrated role that burrowing has played throughout evolutionary history.

    Martin is an ichnologist, a specialist studying fossil traces of behaviour such as footprints, something about which he wrote previously in Dinosaurs Without Bones. Burrows are another kind of trace fossil. After a short introduction into the history of humans and their underground dwellings (from subterranean cities in Turkey that are thousands of years old, to contemporary nuclear bunker complexes), this book is a ride back in time. Burrowing is a surprisingly common behaviour, insects do it, reptiles do it, birds, mammals... pretty much every major group has representatives that dig underground, whether to live there on a permanent basis, to hibernate, or raise young in a safe environment. The advantages are many; other than shelter from predators it is a way to ride out unfavourable seasonal weather, as burrows stay cool in summer and warm in winter. And, as Martin argues, burrows dramatically shift the odds of surviving mass extinctions (see my review of The Ends of The World for a good introduction to the Big Five). It seems that animal lineages with burrowers have time and again lived through times of upheaval, as exemplified by our mammal lineage that is still here after the K-T mass extinction. The observations of pocket gophers that, within days of the volcanic eruption that ripped apart Mount St. Helens in 1980, re-surfaced amidst the debris are astounding.

    But burrowing also has had enormous ecological implications. Martin describes how scientists have traced the first burrowing back all the way to the Ediacaran Period, 630-545 million years ago, when the seas were ruled by microbial films called biomats. Once organisms developed ways of penetrating biomats and penetrating the underlying sediment, things would never be the same again. Burrowing has come to play a large, but largely underappreciated role in changing the composition of soils, both on land and underwater, and Martin provides plenty of examples throughout this book. The amounts of sediment that animal groups collectively turn over, dig up, aerate, bioturbate etc. beggars belief. It is safe to say that burrowing animals are an ecological force that have terraformed the planet. Finally, no animal burrows alone. Apart from other species profiting from abandoned burrows on an ad-hoc basis, burrows are microcosms unto themselves with unique communities of smaller organisms living in burrows or constructing their own tunnel systems branching off from them.

    Packed with solid information, incredible anecdotes and many subterranean puns and pop-culture references, The Evolution Underground is a joy to read, and, judging by the irreverent glee shining through in Martin's style, must have been a joy to write. Attractive colour plate sections illuminate the book further. This is a great work of popular science that seems to have largely flown under people's radar. I am certainly going to pick up his previous book.
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Anthony J. Martin is a Professor at Emory University, a palaeontologist, geologist, and one of the world’s most accomplished ichnologists. He is the co-discoverer of the first known burrowing dinosaur, found the oldest dinosaur burrows in the geologic record, and documented the best assemblage of polar-dinosaur tracks in the Southern Hemisphere. He is the author of two textbooks on dinosaurs as well as Dinosaurs Without Bones and lives in Atlanta, GA.

Popular Science
By: Anthony J Martin(Author)
429 pages, 24 plates with 49 colour photos and colour illustrations
Publisher: Pegasus Books
The Evolution Underground is a joyful read that digs deep into the evolutionary history of burrowing animals.
Media reviews

"Digs into the subterranean strategies of prehistoric and contemporary animals, from insects to giant sloths and, to a lesser extent, humans. Offers subtle clues that help shift the dramatic narrative of prehistoric life forward. Underground warrens enable lungfish to survive drought, iguanas to weather hurricanes, and alligators sit out wildfires."
The Economist

"An unbelievably engaging book."

"Martin is an amiably erudite guide to burrowing fauna. Down the rabbit hole with Martin, Earth becomes one vast, 'constantly evolving burrow system.'"

"Martin, known for having discovered an ancient burrowing dinosaur, examines the world underground and the evolutionary advantages attendant in knowing how to get around down there. A spry exercise in popular science. Can you dig it?"
Kirkus Reviews

"A great introduction and history that will fascinate ecominded conservationists and fossil hunters."
Library Journal

"Martin writes with obvious glee and a humor that at times digs for the dad-jokes, but as a scholar he knows his stuff – many of the natural discoveries he describes are his own. Martin delivers something the casual reader will not expect: a real education in paleontology. The Evolution Underground is a fun book of surprising depth."
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