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

ONE SINGLE SPECIES

WHY THE CONNECTIONS IN NATURE MATTER

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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Jahren transcends both memoir and science writing in this literary fusion of both genres.

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LAB GIRL

Award-winning scientist Jahren (Geology and Geophysics/Univ. of Hawaii) delivers a personal memoir and a paean to the natural world.

The author’s father was a physics and earth science teacher who encouraged her play in the laboratory, and her mother was a student of English literature who nurtured her love of reading. Both of these early influences engrossingly combine in this adroit story of a dedication to science. Jahren’s journey from struggling student to struggling scientist has the narrative tension of a novel and characters she imbues with real depth. The heroes in this tale are the plants that the author studies, and throughout, she employs her facility with words to engage her readers. We learn much along the way—e.g., how the willow tree clones itself, the courage of a seed’s first root, the symbiotic relationship between trees and fungi, and the airborne signals used by trees in their ongoing war against insects. Trees are of key interest to Jahren, and at times she waxes poetic: “Each beginning is the end of a waiting. We are each given exactly one chance to be. Each of us is both impossible and inevitable. Every replete tree was first a seed that waited.” The author draws many parallels between her subjects and herself. This is her story, after all, and we are engaged beyond expectation as she relates her struggle in building and running laboratory after laboratory at the universities that have employed her. Present throughout is her lab partner, a disaffected genius named Bill, whom she recruited when she was a graduate student at Berkeley and with whom she’s worked ever since. The author’s tenacity, hope, and gratitude are all evident as she and Bill chase the sweetness of discovery in the face of the harsh economic realities of the research scientist.

Jahren transcends both memoir and science writing in this literary fusion of both genres.

Pub Date: April 5, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-101-87493-6

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Jan. 5, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2016

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

SILENT SPRING

It should come as no surprise that the gifted author of The Sea Around Us and 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 Yorker are 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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