A lively, highly informative introduction to significant research in ecology that highlights the importance of conserving...

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MONARCHS AND MILKWEED

A MIGRATING BUTTERFLY, A POISONOUS PLANT, AND THEIR REMARKABLE STORY OF COEVOLUTION

The relationship between monarch butterflies and milkweed plants, a story that is “much more…than bright coloration and a penchant for epic journeys.”

The monarch has an abiding fascination for scientists and nature lovers alike. An individual North America monarch may fly up to 3,000 miles from Mexico to Canada annually. Along the way, it will lay eggs on milkweed, which provide sustenance for the next generation of emerging caterpillars. Milkweed is toxic to sheep and horses but crucial to butterflies. Agrawal (Ecology, Evolutionary Biology, Entomology/Cornell Univ.) explains how the monarch and milkweed, both native to North America and likely dating back millions of years, “share a deep evolutionary history.” Their relationship is an example of “coevolution,” and the author shows how they “have spent millions of years evolving chemical traits and reciprocally coevolving in a manner that puts chemistry at the center of their arms race.” Birds that would otherwise feed on monarchs are made nauseous if the butterflies have fed on milkweed and therefore quickly learn to avoid them. In the course of their annual, cross-country flight, the monarchs lay their eggs on the plants, providing shelter, food, and safety for their caterpillars as they emerge. The author describes the extraordinary appetite of these monarch caterpillars, whose birth weight is comparable to that of a bread crumb but whose mass quickly increases more than 200 times in the first two weeks of its life. Over time, monarch butterflies have become impervious to the toxins released by milkweed to deter pests. In response, the plant has evolved an alternate strategy, releasing a blend of volatile compounds to attract wasps that feed on the caterpillars. As Agrawal accessibly demonstrates, this is exemplary of the arms race between predator and prey, which is an important driver of evolution.

A lively, highly informative introduction to significant research in ecology that highlights the importance of conserving our natural habitats.

Pub Date: April 4, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-691-16635-3

Page Count: 296

Publisher: Princeton Univ.

Review Posted Online: Feb. 2, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2017

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Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science...

A SHORT HISTORY OF NEARLY EVERYTHING

Bryson (I'm a Stranger Here Myself, 1999, etc.), a man who knows how to track down an explanation and make it confess, asks the hard questions of science—e.g., how did things get to be the way they are?—and, when possible, provides answers.

As he once went about making English intelligible, Bryson now attempts the same with the great moments of science, both the ideas themselves and their genesis, to resounding success. Piqued by his own ignorance on these matters, he’s egged on even more so by the people who’ve figured out—or think they’ve figured out—such things as what is in the center of the Earth. So he goes exploring, in the library and in company with scientists at work today, to get a grip on a range of topics from subatomic particles to cosmology. The aim is to deliver reports on these subjects in terms anyone can understand, and for the most part, it works. The most difficult is the nonintuitive material—time as part of space, say, or proteins inventing themselves spontaneously, without direction—and the quantum leaps unusual minds have made: as J.B.S. Haldane once put it, “The universe is not only queerer than we suppose; it is queerer than we can suppose.” Mostly, though, Bryson renders clear the evolution of continental drift, atomic structure, singularity, the extinction of the dinosaur, and a mighty host of other subjects in self-contained chapters that can be taken at a bite, rather than read wholesale. He delivers the human-interest angle on the scientists, and he keeps the reader laughing and willing to forge ahead, even over their heads: the human body, for instance, harboring enough energy “to explode with the force of thirty very large hydrogen bombs, assuming you knew how to liberate it and really wished to make a point.”

Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science into perspective.

Pub Date: May 6, 2003

ISBN: 0-7679-0817-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Broadway

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2003

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A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

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NO ONE IS TOO SMALL TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE

A collection of articulate, forceful speeches made from September 2018 to September 2019 by the Swedish climate activist who was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Speaking in such venues as the European and British Parliaments, the French National Assembly, the Austrian World Summit, and the U.N. General Assembly, Thunberg has always been refreshingly—and necessarily—blunt in her demands for action from world leaders who refuse to address climate change. With clarity and unbridled passion, she presents her message that climate change is an emergency that must be addressed immediately, and she fills her speeches with punchy sound bites delivered in her characteristic pull-no-punches style: “I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act.” In speech after speech, to persuade her listeners, she cites uncomfortable, even alarming statistics about global temperature rise and carbon dioxide emissions. Although this inevitably makes the text rather repetitive, the repetition itself has an impact, driving home her point so that no one can fail to understand its importance. Thunberg varies her style for different audiences. Sometimes it is the rousing “our house is on fire” approach; other times she speaks more quietly about herself and her hopes and her dreams. When addressing the U.S. Congress, she knowingly calls to mind the words and deeds of Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy. The last speech in the book ends on a note that is both challenging and upbeat: “We are the change and change is coming.” The edition published in Britain earlier this year contained 11 speeches; this updated edition has 16, all worth reading.

A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

Pub Date: Nov. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-14-313356-8

Page Count: 112

Publisher: Penguin

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2019

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