An intriguing study encompassing “a convergence of disciplines ranging from population ecology and animal behavior to...

READ REVIEW

CONCEALING COLORATION IN ANIMALS

How differences in coloration within a species reveal new dimensions in the operation of natural selection.

“Studying animal coloration is an exercise in time travel, illuminating the conditions of the past that have produced the diversity of the present,” write Diamond (Curator/Univ. of Nebraska State Museum; World of Viruses, 2012, etc.) and Bond (Center for Avian Cognition/Univ. of Nebraska), who follow their earlier collaboration (Kea, Bird of Paradox: The Evolution and Behavior of a New Zealand Parrot, 1999) with this exploration of how the coloration on bird feathers, fish scales and fur are a response to a complex array of factors. Primary among these is the extent to which coloration allows prey to deceptively merge into the background, providing an edge against predators in the struggle for survival. Equally important is patterning, “the arrangement of splotches, speckles, stripes, and shading that make up an animal's visual appearance.” In a fascinating sidelight, the authors examine how Abbott Henderson Thayer, a prominent American landscape painter, applied his observations about animals to the problem of military camouflage during World War I. Diamond and Bond cover modern research on the change in the numbers of light and dark moths in response to the amount of air pollution and explain how fish have evolved darks scales on top and light underbellies to create the appearance of a flattened object. The deceptive practices of prey also affect the cognitive evolution of predator species, which learn to closely observe their targets, detecting small motions and searching for giveaway signs in order to detect them. This in turn provides an evolutionary advantage to prey that can learn to hide distinguishing features and maintain a still posture. Combining a naturalist’s eye with scientific rigor, the authors report on modern experiments on the mechanisms of the selective process that support these observations.

An intriguing study encompassing “a convergence of disciplines ranging from population ecology and animal behavior to genetics, molecular biology and biophysics.”

Pub Date: April 9, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-674-05235-2

Page Count: 274

Publisher: Belknap/Harvard Univ.

Review Posted Online: Jan. 21, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2013

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2015

  • Kirkus Prize
  • Kirkus Prize
    finalist

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • National Book Critics Circle Finalist

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

An authoritative, engaging study of plant life, accessible to younger readers as well as adults.

THE INCREDIBLE JOURNEY OF PLANTS

A neurobiologist reveals the interconnectedness of the natural world through stories of plant migration.

In this slim but well-packed book, Mancuso (Plant Science/Univ. of Florence; The Revolutionary Genius of Plants: A New Understanding of Plant Intelligence and Behavior, 2018, etc.) presents an illuminating and surprisingly lively study of plant life. He smoothly balances expansive historical exploration with recent scientific research through stories of how various plant species are capable of migrating to locations throughout the world by means of air, water, and even via animals. They often continue to thrive in spite of dire obstacles and environments. One example is the response of plants following the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Three decades later, the abandoned “Exclusion Zone” is now entirely covered by an enormous assortment of thriving plants. Mancuso also tracks the journeys of several species that might be regarded as invasive. “Why…do we insist on labeling as ‘invasive’ all those plants that, with great success, have managed to occupy new territories?” asks the author. “On a closer look, the invasive plants of today are the native flora of the future, just as the invasive species of the past are a fundamental part of our ecosystem today.” Throughout, Mancuso persuasively articulates why an understanding and appreciation of how nature is interconnected is vital to the future of our planet. “In nature everything is connected,” he writes. “This simple law that humans don’t seem to understand has a corollary: the extinction of a species, besides being a calamity in and of itself, has unforeseeable consequences for the system to which the species belongs.” The book is not without flaws. The loosely imagined watercolor renderings are vague and fail to effectively complement Mancuso’s richly descriptive prose or satisfy readers’ curiosity. Even without actual photos and maps, it would have been beneficial to readers to include more finely detailed plant and map renderings.

An authoritative, engaging study of plant life, accessible to younger readers as well as adults.

Pub Date: March 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-63542-991-6

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Other Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 8, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more