The invasion of land by ocean-dwelling plants and animals was one of the most revolutionary events in the evolution of life on Earth, yet the animal invasion almost failed – twice – because of the twin mass extinctions of the Late Devonian Epoch. Some 359 to 375 million years ago, these catastrophic events dealt our ancestors a blow that almost drove them back into the sea. If those extinctions had been just a bit more severe, spiders and insects might have become the ecologically dominant forms of animal life on land. When the Invasion of Land Failed examines the profound evolutionary consequences of the Late Devonian extinctions, which shaped the composition of the modern terrestrial ecosystem. Only one group of four-limbed vertebrates now live on Earth while other tetrapod-like fishes are extinct. This gap is why the idea of "fish with feet" seems so peculiar yet these animals were once a vital part of our world.
1. The Evolution of Life on Land
2. The Plants Establish a Beachhead
3. The First Animal Invasion
4. The First Catastrophe and Retreat
5. The Second Animal Invasion
6. The Second Catastrophe and Retreat
7. Victory at Last
8. The Legacy of the Devonian Extinctions
George R. McGhee Jr. is professor of paleobiology at Rutgers University.
"McGhee is able to organize a vast literature into a coherent evolutionary story that is quite unique. From the origin of plants and animals through the Devonian era, this book is a marvelous read. It is important for a wide variety of geologists and biologists and for any readers interested in paleontology and environmental change."
– Peter Sheehan, curator, Milwaukee Public Museum
"Informative, lively [...] Highly recommended."