Many of the key revolutions, or at least, overhauls, in biological thinking have come as a result of the broad realization that a thentofore identified variable is not simply background, but central and causative.
I’m sure everyone always thought, since first recognized, that if genes are important than good genes would be good. Great, even. But it took a while for Amotz Zahavi and some others to insert good genes into Darwin’s sexual selection as the cause of sometimes wild elaboration of traits, not a female aesthetic or mere runaway selection. Continue reading Time itself as a resource that drives evolution→
The Neotropical Companion by John Kricher came out years ago, in the late 80s if I recall correctly. I’ve got a copy of it around somewhere.
I loved that book because it did a great job integrating all the things in one place: animals, plants, habitats, evolution, etc. Even though I was working in the paleotropics at the time, I found it informative.
Then, more recently, I got a revised version of the same book. I’ve got it around somewhere. It is from the 1990s, I think. Great book, same idea as the first one, but with more in it, and a somewhat larger format. This dates to after my fieldwork in the rainforests, but overlapped with visits to arid regions in the tropics, though again, I’m paleo and the book is neo, but still great.
Then, I got a new copy of f Kircher’s book, The New Neotropical Companion. I got this one in the future! (Not quite published yet, but I think you can actually get it now.
This is a serious book. To a large extent, the intended audience is folks who plan to travel in the neotropics and want a strong background in areas of evolutionary biology and conservation. But the book is very high level in terms of the material covered, the range of facts and scope of theoretical work brought to bear, and so on. It is easy to read, even engaging to read, but it is very very rich in content.
So, the book includes information on traveling, and seeing nature on your trip. But then it includes all that information on the nature itself. It is not a small book, not a field guide format (as the first version was), but it is worth lugging around if you are doing some serious visiting.
Or, if you are simply a student of the tropics, evolutionary biology, or nature (not and, but or, on all of that) this book will be an excellent addition to your library.
And, it should be in school libraries, and on the shelves of biology teachers. There are many well developed examples of wildlife and evolution in here, that can be expand on with further literature review (and the book provides a handle on that) for developing in class projects.
I’ve put the table of contents below. As you can see, the book is well organized and covers a lot of material. Also, it is a well produced (as is typical for this publisher, Princeton) and nice looking.
How to Use This Book 12
1 Welcome to the Torrid Zone 15
2 Why It Is Hot, Humid, and Rainy in the Tropics 29
3 Rain Forest: The Realm of the Plants 39
4 Finding Animals in Rain Forest 58
5 Sun Plus Rain Equals Rain Forest 73
6 Essential Dirt: Soils and Cycling 81
7 If a Tree Falls . . . Rain Forest Disturbance Dynamics 95
8 Evolutionary Cornucopia 113
9 Why Are There So Many Species? 134
10 Tropical Intimacy: Mutualism and Coevolution 155
11 Evolutionary Arms Races: More Coevolution, More Complexity 181
12 Cruising the Rivers to the Sea 205
13 Scaling the Andes 235
14 Don’t Miss the Savannas and Dry Forests 250
15 Neotropical Birds: The Bustling Crowd 262
16 From Monkeys to Tarantulas: Endless Eccentricities 319
17 Human Ecology in the Tropics 365
18 The Future of the Neotropics 377
Appendix Words of Caution: Be Sure to Read This 389
Further Reading 392
Like a tree, the pattern of the book is pretty straightforward but fractal like; you start off simple but end up pretty much anywhere in the world of ecology. The book begins with the basic definition of a tree, simple tree anatomy, some phylogeny, some tree physiology and biology, but then branches off (pun intended) into things that are related to trees, like things that live on them, eat parts of them, etc. Seeds and seed dispersal come in around this point as well, as one might expect. The role of trees, or tree related images or tree names, etc. in human culture is also explored.
As indicated by the subtitle, these lessons are organized into thirty things you can do. Some of these things simply involve looking (dividing your local landscape’s larger plants into “tree” and “not a tree,”, etc.) while some involve more intense observation (like telling different trees apart) or interaction (including, of course, waxing leaves and similar activities).
The book includes some great tips on observing (or attracting) forest insects. I think Huxley’s Buggy Camp could have used some of this info this week to help them find tree-related buggy creatures in the nearby woods.
This book can probably work in any North American region, as it is not too specific at the species level, and pretty generic at the genus level. As it were. There is more than enough activity in this book, in terms of both amount and diversity, to keep a family with any number of kids busy on several weekends. The activities are also spread out across seasons fairly well.
Monica Russo has written and illustrated several nature books for children, and authored “Nature Notes,” a column in the Sun Chronicle. Kevin Byron is a nature photographer who’s work is widely recognized.
Photographer Jesse Cancelmo was struck by the general lack of understanding of the sea life and ecology of the Gulf of Mexico that became apparent with the big oil spill in 2010, and this inspired him to carry out a major photographic project in the Gulf.
He felt many had written off the Gulf as a post-environmental disaster dead zone. While environmental effects in the Gulf are certainly very important, it is still a living, thriving ecosystem, the product of Candelmo’s work, Glorious Gulf of Mexico: Life Below the Blue, attests to this.
This is a stunning coffee table type book (but inexpensive, and soft bound) with some really amazing photography. Anybody who works, lives, fishes, dives, or just hangs out along the Gulf will enjoy this book. The book is 156 pages, large format, printed on nice paper, excellent photographic imagery.
This is not just a pretty picture book, but also provides very well written and interesting information on the various subjects of the photographs.
This is the molecular biologist Sean Carroll, as distinct from the physicist (who wrote this).
Homeostasis is one of the basic principles of biology. The term can be applied broadly to mean that certain numbers are maintained within a certain range. This could refer to energy flowing through a system, numbers of specific cellular products like enzymes, numbers of individual organisms in an ecological system, etc. It is not so much that numbers don’t change. Change in numbers is often central to a physiological process. But the change is either demanded by a system of regulating numbers, or is a perturbation in a system that is responded to by regulation. Regulation is one of those key concepts that can be applied across pretty much all systems, and provides a powerful point of view from which to understand what is happening in any living system.
Carroll is a molecular biologist, so much of his training and work is about regulation: identifying it, characterizing it, figuring it out. What Carroll has done in this book is to apply this point of view broadly to biological systems, looking at things inside cells and things inside major ecosystems. The title of the book comes from his own experience visiting the Serengeti as a safari-going tourist, in combination with the fact that this particular ecosystem is one of the best studied in the world. Many different scientists studying everything from grass to microbes to lions to antelopes have spent countless hours observing, characterizing, and trying to explain the dynamics of the Serengeti. As Carroll points out, this is true of a number of different ecosystems, and he could well have named his book, “The Lake Erie Rules,” but that would not have been as cool of a name.
So Carroll has done, then, something that is very dangerous and often does not go well. He’s taken insight derived from his expertise in small scale, mostly sub-cellular, biological systems, and using the touchstone of regulation, applied this insight to help observe, describe, and understand biological systems generally, with a strong focus on ecology. When a scientist steps out of their normal realm to do such a thing, we often get something better ignored, because, in fact, it is not easy or, in some cases, appropriate to make this leap. In this case, however, it worked beautifully. Carroll’s book is fantastic, a success story in going form the specific to the general.
It helps that Carroll is a gifted writer, captivating and thoughtful, and highly respectful of the reader.
Carroll brings in the history of thought and research in the relevant areas of physiology, ecology etc. His messages are framed in the larger context of the Earth’s overall health and important environmental issues. He links the subject matter to key central themes in biological theory (such as natural selection and evolution). And this is all done very well.
You’ve seen the synthetic overviews of life and evolution framed in chaos theory, complexity theory, even quantum physics. This is better.
This is a book to give to your favorite biology teacher (high school or college), and that teacher will take from it examples, connections, lessons, ways of telling, that will enrich their teaching immeasurably.
I don’t think the book is available yet, but you can pre-order it.
Birdwatching might be a casual activity, a hobby, an avocation, or even a profession (often, perhaps, an obsession) depending on the bird watcher, but there is always a science to it, in at least two ways. First, there is the science of how to do it. In this sense, the term “science” means something vernacular. We as easily say “birdwatching is an art” as we could say “there is a science to it” and here we are using both terms( “art” and “science”) in their older sense where science is how we approach things with our minds, and art is how we approach things with our hands. Continue reading The Science of Birdwatching→