Fossils provide solid evidence that organisms from the past are not the same as those found today; fossils show a progression of evolution. Scientists determine the age of fossils and categorize them all over the world to determine when the organisms lived relative to each other. The resulting fossil record tells the story of the past, and shows the evolution of form over millions of years (Figure 11.10). For example, highly detailed fossil records have been recovered for sequences of species in the evolution of whales and modern horses. The fossil record of horses in North America is especially rich and many contain transition fossils: those showing intermediate anatomy between earlier and later forms. The fossil record extends back to a dog-like ancestor some 55 million years ago that gave rise to the first horse- like species 55 to 42 million years ago in the genus Eohippus. The series of fossils tracks the change in anatomy resulting from a gradual drying trend that changed the landscape from a forested one to a prairie. Successive fossils show the evolution of teeth shapes and foot and leg anatomy to a grazing habit, with adaptations for escaping predators, for example in species of Mesohippusfound from 40 to 30 million years ago. Later species showed gains in size, such as those of Hipparion, which existed from about 23 to 2 million years ago. The fossil record shows several adaptive radiations in the horse lineage, which is now much reduced to only one genus, Equus, with several species.
Figure 11.10 This illustration shows an artist’s renderings of these species derived from fossils of the evolutionary history of the horse and its ancestors. The species depicted are only four from a very diverse lineage that contains many branches, dead ends, and adaptive radiations. One of the trends, depicted here is the evolutionary tracking of a drying climate and increase in prairie versus forest habitat reflected in forms that are more adapted to grazing and predator escape through running. Przewalski's horse is one of a few living species of horse.