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

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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Whether you call this a personal story or nature writing, it’s poignant, thoughtful and moving—and likely to become a...

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H IS FOR HAWK

An inspired, beautiful and absorbing account of a woman battling grief—with a goshawk.

Following the sudden death of her father, Macdonald (History and Philosophy/Cambridge Univ.; Falcon, 2006, etc.) tried staving off deep depression with a unique form of personal therapy: the purchase and training of an English goshawk, which she named Mabel. Although a trained falconer, the author chose a raptor both unfamiliar and unpredictable, a creature of mad confidence that became a means of working against madness. “The hawk was everything I wanted to be: solitary, self-possessed, free from grief, and numb to the hurts of human life,” she writes. As a devotee of birds of prey since girlhood, Macdonald knew the legends and the literature, particularly the cautionary example of The Once and Future King author T.H. White, whose 1951 book The Goshawk details his own painful battle to master his title subject. Macdonald dramatically parallels her own story with White’s, achieving a remarkable imaginative sympathy with the writer, a lonely, tormented homosexual fighting his own sadomasochistic demons. Even as she was learning from White’s mistakes, she found herself very much in his shoes, watching her life fall apart as the painfully slow bonding process with Mabel took over. Just how much do animals and humans have in common? The more Macdonald got to know her, the more Mabel confounded her notions about what the species was supposed to represent. Is a hawk a symbol of might or independence, or is that just our attempt to remake the animal world in our own image? Writing with breathless urgency that only rarely skirts the melodramatic, Macdonald broadens her scope well beyond herself to focus on the antagonism between people and the environment.

Whether you call this a personal story or nature writing, it’s poignant, thoughtful and moving—and likely to become a classic in either genre.

Pub Date: March 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0802123411

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2014

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