Cambrian Explosion: The Construction of Animal Biodiversity, The

  • Erwin, Douglas (Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History)
  • Valentine, James (University of California, Berkeley)
Copyright Year:2013
Specifications:416 pages, hardback, printed in full color
Publication Status:Just published (Jan. 18, 2013).

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Cambrian Explosion: The Construction of Animal Biodiversity, The

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About this Title

The Cambrian Period records one of the most extraordinary transitions in the history of life. Although animals may have first appeared nearly 700 million years ago, with the earliest sponges, their initial diversifications appear to have been modest until a richly diverse fossil fauna appeared abruptly about 170 million years later. In The Cambrian Explosion, Erwin and Valentine synthesize research from many fields to explain why there was such remarkable novelty of animal forms.

See below for more information on the full color illustrations. 

Please click this link to read the latest review of the book in Science. 

About the Authors

Douglas Erwin is a paleobiologist with interests in evolutionary innovations and the end-Permian mass extinction and subsequent biotic recovery, among other areas. Recent field projects have taken him to China, South Africa, and Canada. He is Senior Scientist and Curator in the Department of Paleobiology at the National Museum of Natural History and a professor at the Santa Fe Institute. He is the author of six books, including most recently Extinction: How Life on Earth Nearly Ended 250 Million Years Ago (Princeton University Press, 2005).

Jim Valentine has spent the last 50 years trying to understand the paleoecological and macroevolutionary principles that have shaped the fossil record of the marine biosphere. He has found the earliest animal records to be a particular challenge to such interpretation and a delight to investigate. He is active Professor Emeritus of Integrative Biology at the University of California, Berkeley, and the author of many books, including most recently On the Origin of Phyla (University of Chicago Press, 2004).

Table of Contents

Historical and Geological Settings

Chapter 1: Introduction

Chapter 2: Geological Context of Ediacaran and Cambrian Events

Chapter 3: The Environmental Context of the Ediacaran and Early Cambrian

The Record of Early Metazoan Evolution

Chapter 4: The Metazoan Tree of Life

Chapter 5: Dawn of Animals: The Ediacara Biota           

Chapter 6: Metazoan Architectures of the Cambrian Explosion

Biological Processes

Chapter 7: The Construction of Metazoan Ecosystems

Chapter 8: The Evolution of the Metazoan Genome and the Cambrian Explosion

Evolutionary Dynamics of the Cambrian Explosion

Chapter 9: Ghostly Ancestors

Chapter 10: Constructing the Cambrian

Appendix: First Appearances of Major Metazoan clades in the Fossil Record




“The explosion of animal diversity in the Cambrian is one of the most important and compelling mysteries in the history of life, so great, in fact, that it has been the subject of a recent explosion of knowledge across a broad spectrum of disciplines. Erwin and Valentine have provided a much needed, authoritative account of what we know, and just as importantly, what we don't yet know about the geology, ecology, and biology of the "Big Bang" of animal evolution. This book is essential reading for anyone interested in the history of life, and will provoke many new research projects.”—Sean B. Carroll is Vice President for Science Education of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Professor of Molecular Biology and Genetics at the University of Wisconsin. 

The Cambrian Explosion is magnificent. Recent relevant genetic and ecological information is judiciously integrated with up-to-date and profoundly analyzed geological and paleontological knowledge. Well-written and beautifully illustrated, The Cambrian Explosion is a jewel that will surely remain for years to come the gold standard in the field.” —Francisco J. Ayala is University Professor and Donald Bren Professor of Biological Sciences at the University of California, Irvine.

“A masterly exploration of one of the greatest evolutionary transitions in the history of life. The multidimensional approach taken here is the only way to understand the Cambrian Explosion—as a combined ecological, evolutionary, and developmental event, with complex feedbacks and deep roots. Engagingly written, but not stinting on the key details, this beautifully illustrated book belongs on the shelf of every evolutionary biologist and paleobiologist.” —David Jablonski is William R. Kenan, Jr., Distinguished Service Professor at the University of Chicago. 

“The Cambrian explosion of life established the beginnings of animal diversity as we know it. Here two leading authorities not only explore the nature of the explosion—with marvelous new illustrations of the forms that evolved—but also the drivers (the interplay of evolution, environment and ecology) and how the evidence of Cambrian fossils informs our understanding of the subsequent evolution of biodiversity on our planet. This book will appeal to both the general reader and the student of the history of life.” —Derek E.G. Briggs is Director of the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History and G. Evelyn Hutchinson Professor of Geology and Geophysics at Yale University. 

The Cambrian Explosion vividly describes the biologic and geologic processes surrounding the rapid diversification of animal life on Earth. With a deep appreciation of the essential roles of environment and ecology in shaping biodiversity, the latest paleontologic and geologic insights are integrated with knowledge gleaned from modern animal genomes. The prose is appealing, the story compelling, the illustrations spectacular and the referencing extensive. This book will serve as an important port of call for all students of paleobiology.” —Roger Summons is Professor of Geobiology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 

“This fabulous book has it all. Beautifully illustrated and accessible, it is a masterful synthesis that embraces the full richness of the paleontological and geological literature on one hand, and the biological literature on the other, including genomic, developmental, ecological, phylogenetic, and anatomical data, in refreshing and insightful analysis of one of the great events in the history of life and its implications for understanding large scale evolutionary processes.” —Charles Marshall is the Director of the Museum of Paleontology and Professor of Biology at the University of California, Berkeley.

“The Cambrian Explosion tackles the most transformative interval in Earth and evolutionary history – the surprisingly sudden and belated expropriation of the planet by animals.  Too often treated as a single trigger issue, Erwin and Valentine present a refreshingly nuanced view of the complex feedbacks between developmental biology, ecology and physical environment that gave rise to the modern biosphere.” —N. J. Butterfield is University Lecturer at the University of Cambridge. 


The Cambrian explosion is known for a wide variety of bizzare and novel animal forms. This book captures some of the creatures in full color. Illustrator Quade Paul, in close collaboration with Douglas Erwin, rendered the critters as accurately as possible given what we know today. Here are a handfull of examples. 


You can download the errata sheet by clicking this link