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AGASSIZ’s beautifully illustrated five volume opus ‚ Recherches sur les poissons fossiles ‚ (1833-1844) was the actual beginning for paleoichthyology. He gave, in this publication, the first comprehensive presentation of fossil agnathans and fishes. In the ensuing years, numerous descriptions of forms (mostly from Europe and North America) have been published. These were compiled by A. S. WOODWARD (1889-1901), one of the many excellent paleoichthyologists (from past to present) in Great Britain, in his famous “Catalogue of Fossil Fishes in the British Museum (Natural History)”. The catalogue was compiled so well that it is continually used by specialists in paleoichthyology.
In Scandinavia after World War I, E. A. STENSIÖ founded an important school for paleoichthyology. He and his followers did extremely detailed investigations, with great emphasis on anatomical interpretations. These brought about strong controversies, between the Scandinavian and the English-American schools, regarding the interpretation of morphological data and the interrelationships of different groups of agnathans and fishes. Even though the Scandinavian school has disappeared, the controversy still exists; and the Russian, German and French paleoichthyologists find themselves having to take sides. Between 1960 and 1970 one synopsis in Russian (OBRUCHEV, D. V. (ed.) 1964: Osnovy paleontologii, vol. 11: Agnatha, Pisces; 1967: Engl. translation), one in French (PIVETEAU, J. (ed.) 1964 to 1969: Traité de Paléontologie, vol. 4: 1, Vertébrés, Agnathes; 2, Gnathostomes, Acanthodiens, Placodermes, Élasmobranches; 3, Actinoptérygiens, Crossoptérygiens, Dipneustes) and a shorter one in German (MÜLLER, A. H. 1966: Lehrbuch der Paläozoologie. Band III. Vertebraten. Teil 1. Fische im weiteren Sinne und Amphibien) were published, representing the whole field of paleontology. Osnovy showed a systematic viewpoint and Traité a morphological-anatomical viewpoint. A new version of the fish volume of the Osnovy (NOVITSKAYA, L. I., AFANASSIEVA, O. B. (eds.), Agnathans and Early Fishes) was published in 2004; it presented selected groups of Paleozoic fishes (Thelodonti, Heterostraci, Osteostraci, Sarcopterygii [Crossopterygii and Dipnoi]), but is more geographically constrained than the former.
New and young paleoichthyologists have replaced the older and so well-reputed generation. New findings, especially in remote or less explored regions (Asia, southern continents, and northern and southern polar regions) reveal a great amount of new information about Paleozoic agnathans and fishes. In addition, another event has influenced and will continue to influence paleoichthyology: HENNIG’s book “Grundzüge einer Theorie der phylogenetischen Systematik” (1950) translated in 1966 into English (“Phylogenetic systematics”) by R. ZANGERL, a contributor to the Handbook. Since the 1970s, the revision, verification and falsification of the old ideas regarding the interrelationships of agnathans and fishes has begun.
The Handbook of Paleoichthyology summarizes (as far as possible) all known data as a base for comparison with new findings and for interpretation of interrelationships. The reader will find the most current analysis of interrelationships, sometimes even contrary to ones in different volumes.
Each volume deals with the anatomy and the fossil record of agnathans or of a group (class, subclass, etc.) of fishes, except volume 10, which deals with one organ of osteichthyan fishes – otoliths or ear stones. We add two volumes on elasmobranch teeth: Vol. 3D Chondrichthyes (Paleozoic Elasmobranchii: Teeth) appeared in 2010, and now Chondrichthyes 3E (Mesozoic and Cenozoic Elasmobranchii: Teeth). A special volume 3C will deal with the skeletal anatomy of the Elasmobranchii. Vol. 3D Chondrichthyes (Paleozoic Elasmobranchii: Teeth) was awarded a price for outstanding accomplishment by the Polish Minister of Science and Higher Education in 2011.
Volumes 3A and 3B of the Handbook have been sold out, even a reprint of volume 3B. In addition many publications on shark teeth have been published since the beginning of the 1980s. Therefore it was decided to produce a second edition of volumes 3 (3D and 3E), to add all the new data published in recent years on elasmobranchs. Volumes 1A and 8A are in progress. I hope that the Handbook will continue to flourish and draw near completion under Dr. FRIEDRICH PFEIL, its present publisher.
Lawrence, November 2010, H.-P. SCHULTZE