A Sea Without Fish: Life in the Ordovician Sea of the Cincinnati Region, David L. Meyer and Richard Arnold Davis with a chapter by Steven M. Holland. Indiana University Press, Bloomington, Indiana,2009, $44.95, hardcover, 346 pp.
Includes two Appendices, a Glossary, a twenty-eight-page section of References Cited and a twenty-four-page Index. Well illustrated with black and white photographs and other graphics. A Gallery of fourteen color photographs and artwork is included.
Local collectors and students of the Cincinnatian have known that A Sea Without Fish was in "the works" for a couple of years now and its release was met with much anticipation. Few fossil localities merit individual treatment such as the likes of Solnhofen, Messel or the Hunsrük Slate. Let us look at A Sea Without Fish in more detail to see if the Cincinnatian ranks with these famous localities.
A Sea Without Fish is a book for the scientifically literate reader. The authors have attempted to make the technical aspects of Cincinnatian paleontology and geology understandable to individuals at various levels of knowledge. Under the subheading of Conventions in the Preface, descriptions are included of the various practices and methods used within the book in areas such as literature citations, use of scientific names, illustrations and of course, definition of technical terms. The authors put much thought into this to assure that this book was useful for their intended audience.
Sixteen chapters form the bulk of A Sea Without Fish. The first four chapters are more general in nature while chapters five through fourteen describe the fossils. Steven Holland contributed Chapter 15, Paleogeography and Paleoenvironment. Chapter 16 describes the interrelationships of the Cincinnatian animals and ecosystems. An epilogue follows this final chapter with a fanciful but interesting scuba-dive in the Ordovician Cincinnatian sea.
The Introduction covers a broad view to paint a generalized picture of the paleontological bounty that is the Cincinnatian. As the authors point out, many factors contributed to the local fossil treasures including organic evolution, the paleoenvironment, the type of fauna, where this area was and was not located (fortunately away from major tectonic forces). These factors and others allowed for the exceptional abundance and preservation of the fossils in the area. Meyer and Davis include explanations of burial events, the preservation process and describe how the Cincinnati Arch became as it is today.
Any complete work on the Cincinnatian must include the researchers from the "Cincinnati School of Paleontology." As the authors explain to readers not familiar with this "school," it was not a school at all but more of an association of like-minded individuals whose passion was the study of the fossil record in the Cincinnati area. Most of these individuals were amateurs in the literal sense although a number eventually joined the ranks of professional paleontologists. Amateur or not, these workers, active in the 19th and early 20th century, published technical descriptions of the local fossils. Others published indices and bibliographic compendia that remain valuable assets today. This chapter has biographies of thirteen of these individuals including interesting anecdotes supplied by Kenneth Caster about some of them. Since the "Cincinnati School" included more than just these thirteen, the authors have included a comprehensive listing with abbreviated notes on each in the nineteen-page Appendix 2 (259 - 277). The chapter also includes historical photographs of the key people both in portrait and in the field.
Chapter 3 is a brief but thorough explanation of the rules and procedures used in the scientific naming of organisms whether they be living or fossil. The authors include a valuable pronunciation key of those sometimes intimidating Latinized names. A headache for amateur collectors is the seemingly random change in the names of fossil species. Recognizing this issue, Meyer and Davis provide a tidy explanation for the reasons behind these changes. While this may not make the collector any happier, at least the reasons can be appreciated and respected.
Rocks, Fossils, And Time is the last of the chapters of general subject matter. This chapter runs through the history of the naming of the local formations. The discussion includes the establishment of the term Cincinnatian and the classic formations of Caster, Dalvé and Pope of 1955 commonly used by local collectors to this day. Since 1955, numerous workers and state geological surveys have studied the Cincinnatian and each has proposed their own scheme of describing and naming formations. These descriptions are detailed in A Sea Without Fish. More recent work may be bringing all of this confusion to an end and back to the 1955 standard since closer study has substantiated the correlation of individual beds across many miles and state lines. This chapter is more technical than the previous three with the terminology of time sequences, lithology and sedimentology. The concluding section of this chapter covers the age of the Cincinnatian from start to finish including age estimates for specific formations.
Chapters covering the Cincinnatian fossils include: Algae; Poriferans and Cnidarians; Bryozoans; Brachiopods; Molluscs; Annelids and Worm-Like Fossils; Arthropods; Echinoderms; Graptolites and Conodonts; Type-Cincinnatian Trace Fossils. Fossils presented in these chapters cover the complete range of Cincinnatian biodiversity. The authors could not possibly show every known genus and species of fossil from this area so the reader may find that a particular fossil of interest is not included. This is unavoidable in an area like the Cincinnatian where the biota is so diverse.
The authors chose to illustrate and discuss the broadest spectrum of organisms from the obscure acritarchs (rarely seen by collectors) to the most beautifully preserved trilobites and echinoderms to showcase the full picture of Cincinnatian biodiversity. Each chapter dealing with the biota covers the biology, ecology, anatomy and history of the group through time.
Chapter 5 covers the aforementioned little known acritarchs and equally obscure chitinozoans in a discussion of Cincinnatian algal fossils. These two groups are sub-millimeter in size and require acid dissolution techniques for recovery. Also shown and discussed are the dasyclads that are better known to collectors.
Poriferans and Cnidarians, Chapter 6, illustrate the colonial and solitary corals found in the Richmond formations of the Cincinnatian. The corals are commonplace where found but the more fascinating sponges are also described here. Photographs of Brachiospongia and Pattersonia will aid collectors in field recognition of these two sponges. Two stromatoporoids, now considered coralline sponges, Labechia and Aulacera, are pictured. The biological affinities of this group were puzzling for a long time until researchers discovered modern coralline sponges in the Carribean (71). Meyer and Davis include the conulariids here as well and the single local species is illustrated.
The bryozoan chapter is augmented by drawings of the living animal. Several more readily identifiable species are shown in Figure 7.3 (88).
The remarkable 24 inch wide colony of Heterotrypa frondosa collected and reconstructed by Dry Dredgers member Ron Fine is pictured in Figure 7.4 E (90). Meyer and Davis not only discuss the freestanding colonial bryozoans but also the forms that are commonly found as epibiota on other animals.
The brachiopod chapter begins with the standard explanation, by way of shell symmetry, of differentiating the bivalved brachiopods from the bivalved pelecypods. As in other chapters, anatomy, biology and habitats are described. Figures 8.5 and 8.6 illustrate four genera of articulate brachiopods easily confused by collectors because of their similar appearance - Hebertella, Glyptorthis, Plaesiomys and Retrorsirostra (107, 108). Inclusion of these figures will be an aid to those having difficulty differentiating these species. The chapter ends with a discussion of the distribution of genera throughout the Cincinnatian.
Molluscs are addressed in Chapter 9. The usual clams, snails and cephalopods garner most of the coverage but some lesser known molluscs may pique the reader's interest. Two monoplacophorans, Archinacella and Helcionopsis, are shown in Figure 9.2 (121). These had not been previously figured in any other book for general readers to my knowledge. Clam fossils are problematic in the Cincinnatian because of their poor preservation. Meyer and Davis have illustrated some very nicely preserved clams in Figures 9.6 and 9.7 that will be helpful to local collectors(126 & 127). Two of the rare rostroconchs are shown in Figure 9.7 (127). As with the monoplacophorans mentioned above, these too had not been previously figured elsewhere. Extensive discussion is presented about the diverse assemblage of cephalopods found in the Richmond formations as evidence of a tropical faunal incursion from the west. This is an interesting phenomenon that shows shifting ecosystems from global or local changes.
Trilobites, eurypterids and ostracodes fill the arthropod chapter. A Sea Without Fish has photographs of many exceptional trilobite specimens both in this chapter and in the color gallery. Many of these are specimens collected and prepared by local members of the Dry Dredgers and lent for use in illustrations in this book.
Chapter 12 covers the Cincinnatian echinoderms. The crinoids are illustrated with excellent photographs of specimens with complete crowns. Additional photos of crinoids appear in the Gallery. Supplemental information is presented as photos of living crinoids with accompanying text to explain their anatomy and biology. A new drawing by John Agnew of a Glyptocrinus in feeding posture helps bring life to this fossil form. A subsection of the chapter deals with the associations of crinoids with other species including encrusters, borers and even predators. The two local rhombiferans are shown in photographs and in a reconstructed life habitat via a drawing. Four of the Cincinnatian edrioasteroids are shown in Figure 12.13 (181) and their ecology and lifestyles are described (186 - 189). Figures 12.4 through 12.6 illustrate the rare Cincinnatian asteroids including the unique specimen of Promopaleaster in the apparent act of attacking a clam (Figure 12.15 D, p. 184). Ophiuroids, cyclocystoids, and stylophorans are also discussed and illustrated.
The always fascinating subject of trace fossils is covered in Chapter 14. The text has considerable information about the formation and classification of trace fossils. Several of the more common tracks, trails, burrows and boring structures are illustrated in four figures. While some trace makers are known, most are not and Meyer and Davis suggest the likely types of animals that could have made given traces.
Holland has made an understandable presentation of a complex subject in his chapter Paleogeography and Paleoenvironment. He explores the geographical position and climate of Cincinnati 450 m.y.a. Water temperatures, sea level changes and sources of nutrients all impacted the organisms that lived in the Cincinnatian seas. Knowledge of modern processes is applied to geologic evidence to recreate the ancient world. Within this framework, Holland explains what the geology of the various Cincinnatian formations shows about the ancient environment. Key work by Holland and others has revealed six distinct depositional sequences in the Cincinnatian designated as C1 - C6. Each of these sequences begins with a deeper water environment and grades to shallower water at the top of the sequence. Each sequence is capped by a cessation of sedimentation - an unconformity - before the start of the next sequence. These sequence boundaries roughly fall at divisions between major recognizable formations (Figure 15.1, 214).
Life In The Cincinnatian Sea concludes the technical coverage of A Sea Without Fish. In this section, the authors bring the book full circle by applying the information presented up to this point. The Cincinnatian is looked at as a whole and in its sub-parts through species interactions with each other and the environment. A summary of collecting and data analysis techniques has shown that while the rock types had illustrated sea level changes through the Cincinnatian, the fossils themselves are more sensitive indicators of that kind of change. When plotted graphically against the C1 - C6 depositional sequences, the correlation between fauna and water depth is very apparent (Figure 16.3, 240). The migration of fauna from the west into the Richmond formations is given a more detailed analysis than in the earlier mollusc chapter. Meyer and Davis contend that while the foundation of the food chain in the sea is based on phytoplankton, from the fossil record, the Cincinnatian seas were poor in this resource. While the Cincinnatian may be a widely diversified and abundant fauna of filter feeders, it does not come close to the abundance seen in the younger seas of the Devonian and onward. Parasitism, mutualism, commensalism and predator-prey relationships are among the group interactions dealt with by the authors. The chapter ends with Table 3, a five-page chart presenting faunal interactions as cited in the literature (242 - 246).
I have but one minor issue with A Sea Without Fish that relates to the figure captions. Figure captions are done in the style of professional journals. Each image embedded within a figure is accompanied by a capital letter repeated in the caption. My issue is that the letters, although capitalized, do not stand out from the rest of the caption text; lengthy captions make these hard to spot. Scientific names of fossils are written in a bold typeface so that they stand out and further marginalize the figure letters. In their Gallery, the authors have chosen the opposite approach with the letter designators in a bold typeface and the scientific names in italics. I believe this arrangement works much better for the reader trying to identify a fossil from the photographs.
A Sea Without Fish is dedicated to amateur fossil collectors and specifically to the Cincinnati based Dry Dredgers (v). Not every reader may recognize them as such but the names of Dry Dredgers members are acknowledged throughout A Sea Without Fish. Members lent or donated spectacular specimens for inclusion in several of the photographic plates. Some are cited within the text for information contributed while others names appear as coauthors of papers listed in the References Cited section.
The quality of the photographic illustration in A Sea Without Fish is first rate. Some are noted as reproduced from other publications but the majority were newly photographed for this book by Meyer.
A Sea Without Fish is a book for people who want a deeper understanding that extends beyond the mere names of fossils. While it will be useful as an identification reference, the true value is in its presentation of the entire story of Ordovician life in the Cincinnatian. Paleontology, geology, sedimentology, paleogeography, paleobiology and ecology are intimately intertwined within these pages as it is in the real world. This is a more comprehensive presentation of these subjects on the Cincinnatian than in any previous work.
Readability - For students of science, High School and up. Technical terms are well defined.
On the Upside - A broadly based look at the Cincinnatian including the history of study, the fossils, the geology, and the environment in one comprehensive volume. In some areas, A Sea Without Fish will be an aid in identifying some lesser known fossils.
On the Downside - finding a real negative is difficult other than my comments about the style used for figure captions mentioned above.
Overall Rating - A Sea Without Fish is an outstanding work on the Cincinnatian as it covers all aspects of the Ordovician world around Cincinnati. This will be of assistance for fossil identification but the value of A Sea Without Fish lies in its ability to paint a picture of the ancient Ordovician sea for the reader while engaging him in the scientific relevance of the Cincinnatian.