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ONE SINGLE SPECIES

WHY THE CONNECTIONS IN NATURE MATTER

Useful, informative, beautifully illustrated, and well written—a superior introduction to understanding ecosystems.

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This children’s book examines a scientist’s experiment that shows the importance of a single species within an ecosystem.

In her latest science work for young readers, Quinlan (The Case of the Monkeys That Fell From the Trees, 2003, etc.), a wildlife biologist, writer, and artist, explains the important ecological research of Robert T. Paine (1933-2016). Interested in the intertidal zone ecosystem, the scientist studied Washington state tide pools and their characteristic sea life, including barnacles, mussels, sponges, algae, limpets, anemones, and more. He noticed that ochre sea stars were important predators in this system and wondered what the effect would be of removing them from their rocky shoreline habitat. An experiment to test this question led to startling results: “More than 26 species of anemones, chitons, urchins, limpets, whelks, and algae that had thrived in the lower intertidal zone no longer had space to live. They were completely crowded out by the mussels.” When the ochre sea stars were reintroduced, the ecosystem gradually recovered. The experiment proved that “keystone species,” to use Paine’s phrase, were crucial to the health of Washington’s tide pools. Scientists studying other ecosystems also identified keystone species. Their work proved that the delicate balance of an ecosystem can be affected or even destroyed by just a single species’ disappearance. The author’s beautiful full-spread illustrations capture the atmosphere, variety, and splendor of Washington’s coast along with lovely depictions of sea life and other creatures. Without getting overly technical, Quinlan explains the sometimes-complicated concepts with clarity and energy. She gives readers a chance to see how a working scientist conducts experiments, conveying a sense of exploration, curiosity, and wonder at the interconnectedness of things. This is greatly bolstered by a section that provides capsule descriptions of other keystone species around the world, such as the northern flying squirrel, the little auk, the mound-building termite, and the African elephant, and why they’re crucial. For example, mound-building termites construct “extensive underground tunnels and farm fungi that break down wood and other plant material the termites gather. These actions enrich the soil with nutrients.”

Useful, informative, beautifully illustrated, and well written—a superior introduction to understanding ecosystems.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-9970077-4-9

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Raven Mountain Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 12, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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WHY FISH DON'T EXIST

A STORY OF LOSS, LOVE, AND THE HIDDEN ORDER OF LIFE

A quirky wonder of a book.

A Peabody Award–winning NPR science reporter chronicles the life of a turn-of-the-century scientist and how her quest led to significant revelations about the meaning of order, chaos, and her own existence.

Miller began doing research on David Starr Jordan (1851-1931) to understand how he had managed to carry on after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake destroyed his work. A taxonomist who is credited with discovering “a full fifth of fish known to man in his day,” Jordan had amassed an unparalleled collection of ichthyological specimens. Gathering up all the fish he could save, Jordan sewed the nameplates that had been on the destroyed jars directly onto the fish. His perseverance intrigued the author, who also discusses the struggles she underwent after her affair with a woman ended a heterosexual relationship. Born into an upstate New York farm family, Jordan attended Cornell and then became an itinerant scholar and field researcher until he landed at Indiana University, where his first ichthyological collection was destroyed by lightning. In between this catastrophe and others involving family members’ deaths, he reconstructed his collection. Later, he was appointed as the founding president of Stanford, where he evolved into a Machiavellian figure who trampled on colleagues and sang the praises of eugenics. Miller concludes that Jordan displayed the characteristics of someone who relied on “positive illusions” to rebound from disaster and that his stand on eugenics came from a belief in “a divine hierarchy from bacteria to humans that point[ed]…toward better.” Considering recent research that negates biological hierarchies, the author then suggests that Jordan’s beloved taxonomic category—fish—does not exist. Part biography, part science report, and part meditation on how the chaos that caused Miller’s existential misery could also bring self-acceptance and a loving wife, this unique book is an ingenious celebration of diversity and the mysterious order that underlies all existence.

A quirky wonder of a book.

Pub Date: April 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5011-6027-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Jan. 1, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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SILENT SPRING

The book is not entirely negative; final chapters indicate roads of reversal, before it is too late!

It should come as no surprise that the gifted author of The Sea Around Usand its successors can take another branch of science—that phase of biology indicated by the term ecology—and bring it so sharply into focus that any intelligent layman can understand what she is talking about.

Understand, yes, and shudder, for she has drawn a living portrait of what is happening to this balance nature has decreed in the science of life—and what man is doing (and has done) to destroy it and create a science of death. Death to our birds, to fish, to wild creatures of the woods—and, to a degree as yet undetermined, to man himself. World War II hastened the program by releasing lethal chemicals for destruction of insects that threatened man’s health and comfort, vegetation that needed quick disposal. The war against insects had been under way before, but the methods were relatively harmless to other than the insects under attack; the products non-chemical, sometimes even introduction of other insects, enemies of the ones under attack. But with chemicals—increasingly stronger, more potent, more varied, more dangerous—new chain reactions have set in. And ironically, the insects are winning the war, setting up immunities, and re-emerging, their natural enemies destroyed. The peril does not stop here. Waters, even to the underground water tables, are contaminated; soils are poisoned. The birds consume the poisons in their insect and earthworm diet; the cattle, in their fodder; the fish, in the waters and the food those waters provide. And humans? They drink the milk, eat the vegetables, the fish, the poultry. There is enough evidence to point to the far-reaching effects; but this is only the beginning,—in cancer, in liver disorders, in radiation perils…This is the horrifying story. It needed to be told—and by a scientist with a rare gift of communication and an overwhelming sense of responsibility. Already the articles taken from the book for publication in The New Yorkerare being widely discussed. Book-of-the-Month distribution in October will spread the message yet more widely.

The book is not entirely negative; final chapters indicate roads of reversal, before it is too late!  

Pub Date: Sept. 27, 1962

ISBN: 061825305X

Page Count: 378

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1962

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