Avian Growth and Development: Evolution within the Altricial-Precocial Spectrum.— Edited by J. Matthias Starck and R. E. Ricklefs. 1998. Oxford University Press, Oxford. v + 441 pp., 177 figures. ISBN 0-19-510608-3. Cloth, $70.00.—This book is the latest in the long and rich history of seminal articles, symposia, and authoritative reviews on the subject of avian eggs and growth and development of avian embryos. The pioneering work of Portmunn, Nice, Hamburger, Romanoff, and other more recent treatments (Carey 1980, Seymour 1984, Metcalfe et al. 1987, Deeming and Ferguson 1991) published on this subject may serve as a useful background for understanding the foundation on which this book was written. Reading these other books first may be a necessary prerequisite for beginning graduate students or ornithologists/developmental biologists who do not have the background with which to understand some of the sophisticated approaches employed in this book. Although this book should be present on the shelves of every academic library, it is unlikely to appeal to all but the most enthusiastic students of avian egg/embryo biology.
This book focuses on patterns of development throughout the altricial-precocial spectrum. In this regard, comparative biologists who use the development of the chicken embryo to represent patterns of development in all birds might be in for a surprise. The contributions of the editors, who are authors on 9 of the 17 chapters, present many of the freshest ideas and novel analyses that most represent significant advances over previous volumes. Their chapters cover embryonic growth and development, structural variants and invariants in avian development, comparative analyses of and internal constraints on growth, developmental plasticity, models of avian development, and the evolution of avian developmental modes, as well as patterns of development throughout the altricial-precocial spectrum. New approaches found in these chapters include the development of a new measurement (lean body mass of hatchlings) used in classifying various taxonomic groups along the altricial/precocial spectrum, and the construction of various predictive models. Readers must be armed, however, with a thorough knowledge of statistics and principal components analysis to understand these chapters fully.
The other chapters deal with topics that have been frequently reviewed in the past (ontogeny of thermoregulation, energy metabolism and gas exchange, endocrinology) or with new topics that have not been addressed in the avian egg/embryo forum before (immunology and development of locomotion). However, even in the chapters that cover familiar ground, particularly those by Carol Vleck and Terry Bucher on metabolism, gas exchange, and ventilation, the authors find new issues to cover.
Even without its other contributions, the thorough coverage of the literature, complete list of citations, and plethora of tables make the book a valuable reference. It is an outstanding contribution to the literature on growth and development and will serve as a standard in its field for years to come.