Book review: Fossil Spiders: The evolutionary history of a mega-diverse order – Monograph Series Vol 1, by David Penney and Paul A Selden

Jon Trevelyan (UK)

This is the first of a two-part series of monographs on spiders (and arachnids more generally) involving Dr David Penney and published by Siri Scientific Press – the other is reviewed at: Fossil Arachnids: Monograph Series Vol 2. This one is written with Dr Paul Selden, who has more than 30 years of researching, and teaching about, fossil arachnids.

It would seem that fossil spiders tend not to have books written about them, with the only works available tending to be scientific papers (often in foreign languages). Therefore, this short book has several objectives: (1) to provide general and up-to-date background information on the overall importance and diversity of fossil spiders; (2) to discuss the techniques available for working with fossil spiders and some of the problems encountered by palaeoarachnologists; (3) to summarise the overall evolutionary history of spiders in an evolutionary tree (the latter is used to address key issues of broad interest, such as origins, diversifications and extinctions, including the effects of mass extinctions and the relationships between predators and prey); and (4) to explore how fossils can lead to a better understanding of the past and present biogeography of spiders.

The book is profusely illustrated with photographs of some of the best examples of fossil spiders, together with diagrams and graphs, and text explanations for each of specimens displayed. There is no doubt that this book will be interesting to both amateur and professional arachnologists and palaeontologists. However, like many of Siri Scientific Press’ publications, it will also be a general palaeontological reference work, including for those studying today’s spiders.

David Penney has had a lifelong interest in spiders, with almost two decades experience working with amber fossils. In addition to describing new species, which has focused on broader biological questions and he has 25 years of experience working with amber fossils. Paul Selden has promoted the study of fossil arachnids over the last 30 years through his teaching and published research in many scientific papers. He is Director of the Paleontological Institute and Distinguished Professor of Invertebrate Paleontology at the University of Kansas in the USA.

Fossil Spiders: the evolutionary history of a mega-diverse order -Monograph Series Volume 1 by David Penney and Paul A Selden, Siri Scientific Press, Manchester (2011). 128 pp., hardback, ISBN: 978-0-9558636-5-3

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