Veteran wildlife journalist Stolzenburg considers the Earth’s increasingly compromised plant and animal ecosystems.
His enthusiastic debut plumbs ecological experiments relating to the predator-prey dynamic, showing how its disruption directly affects life’s diversity. Most germane to his point are “predator eradication” case studies of places where vital, top-of-the-heap carnivorous animals have been systematically decimated. This caused a cumulative imbalance in unique ecological landscapes and left “second-order predators” in charge. Since the decimation of one species directly affects the propagation of another, these disparities incited a food-chain reaction that threw off track delicate ecological soundness and biodiversity. Stolzenburg adroitly documents scores of other dangerous disproportions. Cruel, obliterative efforts to eradicate the wolf population that once thrived in Yellowstone National Park, for example, sparked a resulting surge in the elk and white-tailed deer population, which was responsible for whittling down young saplings, trampling forest undergrowth, deteriorating river banks and a spike in the prevalence of Lyme-disease-harboring deer ticks. The ocean floors of southwestern Alaska and the North Pacific coast have been stripped of kelp by hungry sea urchins, due to an absence of sea otters whose numbers have been lessened greatly by migrating killer whales. The songbird population has been compromised, the author notes, by the proliferation of such mid-sized predators as raccoons, opossums and black crows. Overly aggressive industrial fishing of Atlantic cod and bluefin tuna has made these species yet another “casualty of the agricultural age.” Stolzenburg’s fact-heavy parlance can be dry and overly didactic, but there’s no quarreling with his cautionary message: Unless measures are taken to preserve what remains of a badly deteriorating ecosystem, there could be dire consequences for planet Earth in the very near future.
A passionately rendered update on our faltering environmental stability.