Environmental Evolution:
Effects of the Origin and Evolution of Life on Planet Earth

Lynn Margulis, Clifford Matthews + Aaron Haselton (editors)

The MIT Press 2000
A book review by Danny Yee © 2000 http://dannyreviews.com/
Environmental Evolution is used as a textbook, but it is a reader rather than a structured work, with thirteen papers on a broad range of topics. These tend towards the "big picture", the inter-disciplinary (on the boundaries between traditional life and earth sciences), and in a few cases the controversial. The result is a collection which should have something for anyone at all interested in evolution.

My favourite paper is a study of microbial landscapes by Stjepko Golubic. This describes the ecology of microbe-populated sabkha (salt flats) and the stromatolites produced by their sedimentation and fossilization. Particularly provoking was a diagram of the kind usually used to show floral variation with elevation — here showing microbial variation over an elevation change of metres, between low and high tide levels.

Paul K. Strother and Elso S. Barghoorn look at fossil evidence from the Archean eon, starting with uncontroversial fossils from around 2 billion years ago and then using that in the interpretation of possible fossils from as far back as 3.4 billion years. Michael McElroy compares the atmospheres of Earth, Venus, and Mars, highlighting how radically the presence of life has changed the Earth's atmosphere from where it would otherwise be. And Tony Swain surveys the function and evolution in plants of semiochemicals such as phenols, terpenoids, and alkaloids.

Among the papers with controversial elements are James Lovelock's 1973 paper "The Gaia Hypothesis" and a paper by Clifford Matthews arguing that hydrogen cyanide polymers were precursors in the formation of the first proteins and nucleic acids. And Lynn Margulis writes about symbiosis in the origin of protists, both the now accepted symbiotic origins of mitochondria and chloroplasts (which she helped to establish) and the still undecided case for a relationship between undilipodia and spirochetes.

Two chapters tackle topics in the history of science: Antonio Lazcano glances at early ideas about the origins of life, looking at Oparin and Herrera as well as Miller and Urey, and Raymond Siever sketches a history of plate tectonics. Other contributions include papers on the origins of membrane structure (David Deamer), the Ediacaran fauna (Mark McMenamin), environmental pollution by inorganic chemicals (Jonathan King), and karyotypic fission in mammalian evolution (Neil Todd).

July 2000

External links:
- buy from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk
- details at the MIT Press
Related reviews:
- Lynn Margulis - Microcosmos: Four Billion Years of Microbial Evolution
- books about chemistry
- books about evolution
- more geology
- books published by The MIT Press
%T Environmental Evolution
%S Effects of the Origin and Evolution of Life on Planet Earth
%E Margulis, Lynn
%E Matthews, Clifford
%E Haselton, Aaron
%I The MIT Press
%D 2000
%O paperback, 2nd edition, glossary, index
%G ISBN 0262631970
%P xvi,338pp