Cover: Axis and Circumference: The Cylindrical Shape of Plants and Animals, from Harvard University PressCover: Axis and Circumference in E-DITION

Axis and Circumference

The Cylindrical Shape of Plants and Animals

Available from De Gruyter »

Product Details


$65.00 • £54.95 • €60.00

ISBN 9780674436961

Publication Date: 06/10/1988

132 pages



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Cylindrical shapes appear everywhere in living nature: body forms, stems, torsos, tails, appendages. Why is this form so omnipresent? Stephen Wainwright perceives the cylinder as part of a natural pattern, designed to enhance an organism’s ability to compete for space, food, and mates—it facilitates reaching out competitively for nutrients, gas exchange, and reproduction, and efficiently promotes movement on land and through viscous liquids.

Of course, there are exceptions to the ubiquitous cylindrical form, such as lettuce, sea urchins, and box tortoises, but for every exception there are thousands of species that are cylindrical in overall shape or are composed of cylindrical parts. Other organisms, such as the stingray and the butterfly, are noncylindrical as adults but grow and mature through cylindrical shapes during their development. Wainwright, a master in illustrating concepts with real plants and animals, marshals a sweeping array of examples from nature to illuminate his discourse. Wainwright demonstrates how an organism’s function and its morphology are part of the same process—a process that can reveal not only how plants and animals work but how they have evolved over time. In short, he projects the physical plan of the organism into the evolutionary realm. For the professional biologist, Axis and Circumference presents a fresh and original thesis that will inspire debate and challenge experts to reconsider the role of mechanical thinking in paleontology and developmental biology. For students, this book will provide an integrated approach to the fundamental mechanical principles of functional morphology.

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