The Diversity of Life

The Diversity of Life[Ebook] ➭ The Diversity of Life ➬ Edward O. Wilson – Jobs-in-kingston.co.uk In this book a master scientist tells the story of how life on earth evolved Edward O Wilson eloquently describes how the species of the world became diverse and why that diversity is threatened today In this book a master scientist tells the story of how life on earth evolved Edward O Wilson eloquently describes how the species of the world became diverse and why that diversity is threatened The Diversity PDF or today as never before A great spasm of extinction — the disappearance of whole species — is occurring now, caused this time entirely by humans Unlike the deterioration of the physical environment, which can be halted, the loss of biodiversity is a far complex problem — and it is irreversible Defining a new environmental ethic, Wilson explains why we must rescue whole ecosystems, not only individual species He calls for an end to conservation versus development arguments, and he outlines the massive shift in priorities needed to address this challenge No writer, no scientist, is qualified than Edward O Wilson to describe, as he does here, the grandeur of evolution and what is at stake Engaging and nontechnical proseProdigious eruditionoriginal and fascinating insights — John Terborgh, New York Review of books, front page review EloquentA profound and enduring contribution — Alan Burdick, Audubon. This represents an outstanding overview of the worldwide threat to biodiversity, an accessible presentation of relevant principles of ecology, and an outline of promising lines of action to save ourselves from our suicidal path. For a scientist, Wilson is surprisingly eloquent and skillful in conveying a lot of information and issues without coming off like a textbook. By coincidence, the Pope just this week presented an Encyclical which exhorted politicians and individuals everywhere to do everything possible to preserve biodiversity.



If you are like me, it’s easy to get struck dumb with hopeless, depressing feelings over facts continually dumped on our heads about species loss linked to the progressive destruction of natural habitats. But, as with a health threat, a clear diagnosis, prognosis, and comprehensive preventative and treatment plans do wonders in helping one face dark truths. For me, Wilson’s book makes a great complement to a recent read of Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction, which balances a journalistic and history of science approach to the same issues relating to the recent age as one comparable to five other mass extinctions in geological time (now termed the Antropocene). They cover some of the same ground in highlighting how the current ecological catastrophe in modern times is just an extension of human impact on species loss by hunting and habitat destruction everywhere he expanded out from Africa and Eurasia. For example, the Paleo-Indian invasion of America across the Bering Strait land bridge about 12,000 years ago is linked to the loss of many prominent large mammals (“If this were a trial, the Paleo-Indians could be convicted on circumstantial evidence alone, since the coincidence in time is so exact”). I like his portrayal of a virtual American Serengeti awaiting humans:
From one spot, say on the edge of a riverine forest looking across open terrain, you could have seen herds of horses (the extinct, pre-Spanish kind), long-horned bison, camels, antelopes of several species, and mammoths. There would be glimpses of sabertooth cats, possibly working together in lionfish prides, giant dire wolves, and tapirs. Around a dead horse might be gathered the representatives of a full adaptive radiation of scavenging birds: condors, huge condor-like teratorns, carrion storks, eagles, haks, and vultures, dodging and threatening one another …

Although Wilson’s book was published in 1992, it is great for expanding my knowledge of the basic science through clear examples. What is a species, what contributes to their formation and extinctions, what is an ecosystem, and what is known about dependencies between species? I especially appreciated his emphasis of how little we know. We may know about a good fraction of vertebrates on our planet, but the vast majority of invertebrates and plants are as yet unidentified. We may know something of less than 2 million species, but we can only guess if there are 10 million or 100 million more out there (not counting even vaster numbers of unknown microorganisms). The riot of life in the tropical rain forests has long been largely inaccessible because of their remoteness and concentration of species high off the ground. When scientists fogged single trees with insecticides, they found each one had hundreds of unknown species of bugs. Thousands of orchids and other parasitic plants called epiphytes reside out of sight in the canopy, each one of which can provide niches for unique fungi, mosses, insects, and snails.

One thing I never thought much about before is how the loss of an individual species usually involves extinction of others which depend on them, including an array of specialized microparasites. Beyond the squeamish recognition of critters in my eyelashes and skin and of gut bacteria, think of comparable niches on the bodies of every mammal and bird. Even insects have their fellow travelers. Wilson describes a special mite (a blood sucking arthropod) that forms a boot on the foot of a particular ant. Such interdependency between species and complexities in food webs are areas we only begin to scratch the surface. For example, the discovery that all vascular plants depend on a symbiosis with fungi in their root systems is relatively recent. We don’t know how many species can be lost from an ecosystem before the whole thing collapses. When one species gets attention as endangered (e.g. panda, tiger, songbird), Wilson educates us to think of them as a sentinel or stand-in for the larger set associated with their particular habitat and ecosystem.

If a species is lost in the forest and no one is aware of it, did it happen? An insidious aspect of our ignorance is the silent disappearance of species we know nothing about. Some volunteer biologists mapped an incredible array of new species on a ridge containing a dry tropical forest on a ridge in the foothills of the Ecuadoran Andes, a habitat isolated by valleys and elevation. Returning later, the ridge had been clear-cut. What would have been an invisible loss of species was accidentally documented:

Around the world such anonymous extinctions—call them “centinalan extinctions”—are occurring, not open wounds for all to see and rush to staunch but unfelt internal events, leakages from vital tissue out of sight. Any number of rare local species are disappearing just beyond the edge of our attention. They enter oblivion like the dead of Gray’s Elegy, leaving at most a name, a fading echo in a far corner of the world, their genius unused.

In other cases, the smoking gun of human blunder is obvious to discern. In the Great Lakes of East Africa resides an amazing adaptive radiation of hundreds of cichlid fish species reminiscent of the Galapagos finch diversity that inspired Darwin. The introduction of an aggressive Nile perch species into Lake Victoria as a game fish in the 1920s led so far to disappearance of half the cichlid species. The contribution of alien species to accelerated extinction rates is an old story for human impact. In addition to predation by pets like dogs and cats, the human spread of critters like rats and inadvertent spread of disease organisms has contributed to doom of many a species.

Wilson is quite engaging in introducing the reader to the new specialized fields within ecology of biodiversity science and conservation biology. The relationship of species survival and sustained diversity to population size and geographical space is a basic challenge. Biogeographical studies of islands reveal some principles, such as how a tenfold increase in area is typically linked to sustaining about twice as many species. Studies by Jared Diamond and associates of islands formed by rising seas after the last ice age confirmed the inverse relationship for species loss after restriction in habitat area. From such a mathematical relationship, Wilson presented an estimate for species loss of 10-20% over 30 years associated with rates of worldwide rain forest destruction. At the end of the 80’s, the rate of rainforest loss approached 2% of the total per year, which he translated to an area the size of the 48 continental states of the U.S. sustaining annual losses of an area the size of Florida. Fortunately, the rate of tropical deforestation has dropped since then (a recent estimate I saw was about .5% per year for the two decades up to 2010).

The last quarter of the book deals with arguing for the value of biodiversity and a range of promising practices and strategies to preserve it. If the reader doesn’t need or want all the biological foundations for the problem of biodiversity, they could profit in understanding and hope by reading this section by itself. An obvious problem to addressing the threat to biodiversity is that the richest ecosystems and most species are in tropical areas and in the hands of the poorest nations. Much deforestation is due not to corporate level forestry and cattle ranching, but to individual poor families clearing land to survive:

The raging monster upon the land is population growth. In its presence, sustainability is but a fragile theoretical construct. To say, as many do, that the difficulties of nations are not due to people but to poor ideology or land-use management is sophistic.

Big solutions are needed to preserve ecosystems, starting with priority hot spots. The wealthy nations and international corporations may have been villains of exploitation in the past, but now they must work together and invest in solutions. Major goals for concerted teamwork between science, business, and government include: 1) survey the world’s fauna and flora; 2) create biological wealth; 3) promote sustainable development, 4) save what remains, 5) restore the wildlands. Some of his ideas for exploiting new food sources or alternative sources for fibers are of interest to individuals wanting to make a difference. His support of aquaculture as a major solution has come under serious criticism for inefficiency and practices that cause much pollution. Since the book was written, the effect of ocean acidification on coral reefs has turned out to be a huge problem seeming beyond the scope of the solutions he proposes for land ecosystems.

The concept that zoos, botanical gardens, seed banks, and tissue banks will have a major impact for conservation he sees as a pipe dream. He is quite eloquent in quashing certain forms of complacency:

It is also possible for some to dream that people can go on living comfortably in a biologically impoverished world. They suppose that a prosthetic environment is within the power of technology, that human life can still flourish in a completely humanized world, where medicines would all be synthesized from chemicals off the shelf, food grown from a few dozen domestic crop species, the atmosphere and climate regulated by computer-driven fusion technology, and the earth made over until it becomes a literal spaceship rather than a metaphorical one, with people reading displays and touching buttons on the bridge. Such is the terminus of the philosophy of exemptionalism: do not weep for the past, humanity is the new order of life, let species die if they block progress, scientific and technological genius will find another way. Look up and see the stars awaiting us.

His final argument for action speaks to the spiritual value humanity gives to wildness in nature and the importance of not short changing all future generations by our inaction:

We do not know what we are and cannot agree on where we want to be …
Humanity is part of nature, a species that evolved among other species. The more closely we identify ourselves with the rest of life, the more quickly we will be able to discover the sources of human sensibility and acquire the knowledge on which an enduring ethic, a sense of preferred direction, can be built.

I doubt this review will sway many of you to read this book. That’s okay. I often like to read book reviews as a substitute for reading book, which is why I waxed long on details. Even a schematic level of knowledge is enough sometimes to inspire an individual to take constructive actions at different levels. There are plenty of organizations that can keep non-biologist people tuned into work on solutions. If you want to explore graphical portrayals of the interacting factors at play and state of progress, I recommend a recent Internet initiative called the Biodiversity Indicators Dashboard: http://dashboard.natureserve.org/dash



All my linguistics friends made fun of me when I took environmental biology at BYU, but it was honestly of the most spiritual classes I took there. I read this for a report in that class, and I absolutely loved it. If you want to learn more about how ecosystems work in the world in a way that will really make you appreciate the blessings of the Lord, this is a great book. This book written by double Pulitzer prize winning zoologist Edward Wilson is a little dated and at 30 years old the illustrations are a little amateurish

..

But Edward Wilson, as close to a modern day Charles Darwin as there is, provides a comprehensive understanding of life on earth ranging from blue whales to bacteria.

Highly recommended for science buffs and enjoyable for us curious lay persons.

It makes me smile to know that amazing people like Wilson populate our world. Admittedly I didn't read this from cover to cover, but rather dipped in and out for certain bits of information as I was prepping for Journey to the Ants by the same author.

The book is rich in knowledge and illustration, is engaging and captivating, and provides all the information you could ever require on the biodiversity of planet Earth.

The chapters are well laid out, allowing you to dip in if you wish or read straight through.

I don't know if its my slightly nihilistic attitude coming through but sentences that jumped out at me whilst reading were


..humanity is ecologically abnormal



. (indeed we are)

There is no way we can draw upon the resources of the planet to such a degree without drastically reducing the state of most other species





In other words, humanity sucks the life of other species from the Earth. The Diversity of Life is a practical book (a book that shows you how to do something). The first part of the book (well over 3/4) is devoted to a general overview of evolution - its history, the mechanisms through which it works, and particularly the process of extinction. The last part is a plea, an argument to save our planet's biodiversity. He shows a few of the already-known benefits we have received from it, hoping to prove it is too valuable to be summarily destroyed. Finally, he gives his plan for saving it (which is why this is a practical book; the rest is entirely theoretical):
1. Survey the World's Biodiversity - Learn about species, familiarize the public with them to motivate public support for preservation, and find benefits that will . . .
2. Create Biological Wealth - Make biodiversity economically valuable, if through tourism, long-term harvesting of rain forest plots, pharmaceuticals, or new and improved agricultural products.
3. Promote Sustainable Development - The rural poor in the Third World are destroying the world's biodiversity to put off for a short time their hunger and poverty. We must teach them ways to use biodiversity in a long-term way, and ease their poverty by removing the competition of heavily subsidized farms in the developed world and lifting debt, which can also be done so as to:
4. Save What Remains - No scientific process like cloning, freezing, seed banks, arboretums, zoos, or botanical gardens can ever hope to truly restore an ecosystem to its original state - the climate and conditions are very difficult to reproduce, and populations will have been reduced so low that their genetic diversity will be mostly lost anyway. There is no feasible alternative to saving natural ecosystems. One of the best ways to do this in the Third World (near the equator and therefore home to a large part of the world's biodiversity) is through debt-for-nature programs, in which foundations like The Nature Conservancy or WWF, etc, buy debt in exchange for the creation of more reserves.
5. Restore the Wildlands - Finally, we need to retake the land lost to logging, and allow the forests to grow back. This is accomplished in essentially the same way as 4. Wilson is very hopeful about this and says the next century will be the age of restoration.

So, I agree with Wilson. I agree that his ends are of utmost importance, and that his ends would reach them. But, though I am perhaps an idealist, I am skeptical those ideas will come about. I feel like there are reasons to be skeptical, but I don't understand them yet, and want to read more before I try to explain them.

Mortimer Adler says that when you read a practical book, and you agree that its ends are good and that its means will achieve them, you ought to go do what the book says. So, I suppose I do feel a lot more inclined to spend my life cataloging and researching organisms right now. But I am not sure I am in a position to realize the changes he suggests. Is that an excuse?

Incidentally, I want to start an arboretum, or maybe something less ambitious to start with. I want to grow those rare plants he talks about, like amaranth and winged bean and the delicious fruits, durian and mangosteen and such. This book was not on my To-Read List but should have been. Instead, I picked it up for a buck at our library's used book sale.

For an amateur naturalist and docent for 4th graders at a nature preserve this book perfectly addressed the main topics we try to get across to the kids: how important and delicate ecosystems are and how if you remove certain keystone species the whole habitat may collapse like the London Bridge.

Given that the book is now more than 20 years old, I am keen to read a more recent book on the same topic to see if Wilson's predictions have come true with respect to estimates of species yet undiscovered and unnamed and more importantly, of those that have gone extinct.

I wonder if kids of the future will see tigers, lions, wolves, elephants, gorrillas, etc. the same way we have seen dinosaurs, mammoths and saber-toothed tigers--only in cartoons and movies. I heard about this book and this author/scientist at roughly the same time (probably scientist first, then book, then author), but it was not my first E. O. Wilson book to read. Sometimes, when I hear too much about a book, it makes me want to read it less.

So, when I found myself amongst the impossibly tall stacks in the evolutionary biology section of Powells Books for the first time, E. O. Wilson's name immediately jumped out at me as familiar, as did the title The Diversity of Life, but I was not yet ready to read it. I chose instead Consilience, and found myself immediately enamored with Wilson's eloquence, and his ability to make science accessible without for a moment dumbing it down.

The Diversity of Life follows this pattern of eloquence, and I steamrolled my way through it far faster than I had expected. Toward the end, I felt a little as I did about Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, in the sense that Wilson wasn't telling me anything he hadn't already beaten to death over the first three quarters of the book. Despite the repetitive subject matter, Wilson's writing is still fascinating to read, and I look forward to my next Wilson book. This is an important book that everyone should read but I couldn't help but feel Wilson missed a great opportunity here. Those of us who are familiar with the importance of bio diversity will find much to appreciate in this book. His analysis is cogent and it would take someone who is willfully ignorant to take issue.

Nevertheless, for the amateur naturalist, I think that the failure to include even a short section on what one can do in their own community was a terrible missed opportunity. I understand the rain forests contain the greatest number of plants and animals, but I'll never see these places, let alone be able to make much of a difference by helping to preserve that diversity. I couldn't help but think it would have been really great for him to mention something as simple as planting milkweed for our fast disappearing Monarch butterflies.

Oh well, still a very good book. EO Wilson is just excellent. Writer. Ant Entomologist. Ecologist. This 400 page paperback is an introduction to biogeography, paleontology (including paleobotany), how humans are impacting various ecosystems from the rainforests, to the oceans, to the temperate regions like the US, to the Arctic. Extremely clearly written. Lets you in on the secrets of what's being destroyed as we humans expand our activities. And tells you the rate of death. Those species with only 500 individuals will not survive. No black rhinos. This book lays out the reasons why (breeding populations are usually 10% of the whole population and 50 males with 50 females will not preserve enough of the species diversity to reproduce with out destructive genes being expressed). Q: What broods, can be green at the gills and is occasionally found in abysmal depths, with its mouth transfixed in the perennial O of astonishment?
A: A biologist.

What else could they feel, those that truly delight in their work, when in the midst of their beloved specimens they continuously discover omens of imminent destruction? When they emerge from the fey halls of majestic metamorphosis, only to behold vast fields of felled trees and scorched earth, ominously still in deathly silence? When their symposia turn funereal vigils in the wake of reports of extinction and rapacious advancement of human devastation?

Perhaps some are able to keep going due to optimism or a deluge of work to keep their minds busy. But if they share the devotion that Wilson's The Diversity of Life imparts, one simply shudders to think of their drooping circles and their ashen skins.

Here the reader is given a comprehensive overview of biodiversity from bottom to top. The book covers history of life, some basic principles and shortcomings of science, the nitty-gritty of diversity and intimates the vast web of causality that Nature has spun for Herself throughout eons. All these are mottled with astute examples, even to a point of saturation. Best of all, it is all told in a voice that's not only very proper, knowledgeable and wise - it is also beautifully poetic. Wilson writes superbly.

Everybody loves an eye-opener, and this one added yet another pair of toothpicks to keep my lids open in the wee small hours. It would be pointless to describe any of the content more specifically, since it's all so well explained within the book itself. This is a read for those, who love knowledge and want to act responsibly, but also for those who admire an author who can write beautifully, argue with gusto
but isn't afraid to show their own underbelly. This book is for such people, but rest assured it won't be a light summer read - the language is technical and the content pregnant with justifiable concern for the future of species.

An out-and-out classic, both in its Ciceronian delivery and Darwinian message.

PS. Here's a nifty little checklist for you, if you'd like to save our lovely little globe!

1. Survey the world's fauna and flora.
2. Create biological wealth.
3. Promote sustainable development.
4. Save what remains.
5. Restore the wildlands.

That should do the trick!

The Diversity of Life PDF/EPUB ☆ The Diversity  PDF
    The Diversity of Life PDF/EPUB ☆ The Diversity PDF an end to conservation versus development arguments, and he outlines the massive shift in priorities needed to address this challenge No writer, no scientist, is qualified than Edward O Wilson to describe, as he does here, the grandeur of evolution and what is at stake Engaging and nontechnical proseProdigious eruditionoriginal and fascinating insights — John Terborgh, New York Review of books, front page review EloquentA profound and enduring contribution — Alan Burdick, Audubon. This represents an outstanding overview of the worldwide threat to biodiversity, an accessible presentation of relevant principles of ecology, and an outline of promising lines of action to save ourselves from our suicidal path. For a scientist, Wilson is surprisingly eloquent and skillful in conveying a lot of information and issues without coming off like a textbook. By coincidence, the Pope just this week presented an Encyclical which exhorted politicians and individuals everywhere to do everything possible to preserve biodiversity.



    If you are like me, it’s easy to get struck dumb with hopeless, depressing feelings over facts continually dumped on our heads about species loss linked to the progressive destruction of natural habitats. But, as with a health threat, a clear diagnosis, prognosis, and comprehensive preventative and treatment plans do wonders in helping one face dark truths. For me, Wilson’s book makes a great complement to a recent read of Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction, which balances a journalistic and history of science approach to the same issues relating to the recent age as one comparable to five other mass extinctions in geological time (now termed the Antropocene). They cover some of the same ground in highlighting how the current ecological catastrophe in modern times is just an extension of human impact on species loss by hunting and habitat destruction everywhere he expanded out from Africa and Eurasia. For example, the Paleo-Indian invasion of America across the Bering Strait land bridge about 12,000 years ago is linked to the loss of many prominent large mammals (“If this were a trial, the Paleo-Indians could be convicted on circumstantial evidence alone, since the coincidence in time is so exact”). I like his portrayal of a virtual American Serengeti awaiting humans:
    From one spot, say on the edge of a riverine forest looking across open terrain, you could have seen herds of horses (the extinct, pre-Spanish kind), long-horned bison, camels, antelopes of several species, and mammoths. There would be glimpses of sabertooth cats, possibly working together in lionfish prides, giant dire wolves, and tapirs. Around a dead horse might be gathered the representatives of a full adaptive radiation of scavenging birds: condors, huge condor-like teratorns, carrion storks, eagles, haks, and vultures, dodging and threatening one another …

    Although Wilson’s book was published in 1992, it is great for expanding my knowledge of the basic science through clear examples. What is a species, what contributes to their formation and extinctions, what is an ecosystem, and what is known about dependencies between species? I especially appreciated his emphasis of how little we know. We may know about a good fraction of vertebrates on our planet, but the vast majority of invertebrates and plants are as yet unidentified. We may know something of less than 2 million species, but we can only guess if there are 10 million or 100 million more out there (not counting even vaster numbers of unknown microorganisms). The riot of life in the tropical rain forests has long been largely inaccessible because of their remoteness and concentration of species high off the ground. When scientists fogged single trees with insecticides, they found each one had hundreds of unknown species of bugs. Thousands of orchids and other parasitic plants called epiphytes reside out of sight in the canopy, each one of which can provide niches for unique fungi, mosses, insects, and snails.

    One thing I never thought much about before is how the loss of an individual species usually involves extinction of others which depend on them, including an array of specialized microparasites. Beyond the squeamish recognition of critters in my eyelashes and skin and of gut bacteria, think of comparable niches on the bodies of every mammal and bird. Even insects have their fellow travelers. Wilson describes a special mite (a blood sucking arthropod) that forms a boot on the foot of a particular ant. Such interdependency between species and complexities in food webs are areas we only begin to scratch the surface. For example, the discovery that all vascular plants depend on a symbiosis with fungi in their root systems is relatively recent. We don’t know how many species can be lost from an ecosystem before the whole thing collapses. When one species gets attention as endangered (e.g. panda, tiger, songbird), Wilson educates us to think of them as a sentinel or stand-in for the larger set associated with their particular habitat and ecosystem.

    If a species is lost in the forest and no one is aware of it, did it happen? An insidious aspect of our ignorance is the silent disappearance of species we know nothing about. Some volunteer biologists mapped an incredible array of new species on a ridge containing a dry tropical forest on a ridge in the foothills of the Ecuadoran Andes, a habitat isolated by valleys and elevation. Returning later, the ridge had been clear-cut. What would have been an invisible loss of species was accidentally documented:

    Around the world such anonymous extinctions—call them “centinalan extinctions”—are occurring, not open wounds for all to see and rush to staunch but unfelt internal events, leakages from vital tissue out of sight. Any number of rare local species are disappearing just beyond the edge of our attention. They enter oblivion like the dead of Gray’s Elegy, leaving at most a name, a fading echo in a far corner of the world, their genius unused.

    In other cases, the smoking gun of human blunder is obvious to discern. In the Great Lakes of East Africa resides an amazing adaptive radiation of hundreds of cichlid fish species reminiscent of the Galapagos finch diversity that inspired Darwin. The introduction of an aggressive Nile perch species into Lake Victoria as a game fish in the 1920s led so far to disappearance of half the cichlid species. The contribution of alien species to accelerated extinction rates is an old story for human impact. In addition to predation by pets like dogs and cats, the human spread of critters like rats and inadvertent spread of disease organisms has contributed to doom of many a species.

    Wilson is quite engaging in introducing the reader to the new specialized fields within ecology of biodiversity science and conservation biology. The relationship of species survival and sustained diversity to population size and geographical space is a basic challenge. Biogeographical studies of islands reveal some principles, such as how a tenfold increase in area is typically linked to sustaining about twice as many species. Studies by Jared Diamond and associates of islands formed by rising seas after the last ice age confirmed the inverse relationship for species loss after restriction in habitat area. From such a mathematical relationship, Wilson presented an estimate for species loss of 10-20% over 30 years associated with rates of worldwide rain forest destruction. At the end of the 80’s, the rate of rainforest loss approached 2% of the total per year, which he translated to an area the size of the 48 continental states of the U.S. sustaining annual losses of an area the size of Florida. Fortunately, the rate of tropical deforestation has dropped since then (a recent estimate I saw was about .5% per year for the two decades up to 2010).

    The last quarter of the book deals with arguing for the value of biodiversity and a range of promising practices and strategies to preserve it. If the reader doesn’t need or want all the biological foundations for the problem of biodiversity, they could profit in understanding and hope by reading this section by itself. An obvious problem to addressing the threat to biodiversity is that the richest ecosystems and most species are in tropical areas and in the hands of the poorest nations. Much deforestation is due not to corporate level forestry and cattle ranching, but to individual poor families clearing land to survive:

    The raging monster upon the land is population growth. In its presence, sustainability is but a fragile theoretical construct. To say, as many do, that the difficulties of nations are not due to people but to poor ideology or land-use management is sophistic.

    Big solutions are needed to preserve ecosystems, starting with priority hot spots. The wealthy nations and international corporations may have been villains of exploitation in the past, but now they must work together and invest in solutions. Major goals for concerted teamwork between science, business, and government include: 1) survey the world’s fauna and flora; 2) create biological wealth; 3) promote sustainable development, 4) save what remains, 5) restore the wildlands. Some of his ideas for exploiting new food sources or alternative sources for fibers are of interest to individuals wanting to make a difference. His support of aquaculture as a major solution has come under serious criticism for inefficiency and practices that cause much pollution. Since the book was written, the effect of ocean acidification on coral reefs has turned out to be a huge problem seeming beyond the scope of the solutions he proposes for land ecosystems.

    The concept that zoos, botanical gardens, seed banks, and tissue banks will have a major impact for conservation he sees as a pipe dream. He is quite eloquent in quashing certain forms of complacency:

    It is also possible for some to dream that people can go on living comfortably in a biologically impoverished world. They suppose that a prosthetic environment is within the power of technology, that human life can still flourish in a completely humanized world, where medicines would all be synthesized from chemicals off the shelf, food grown from a few dozen domestic crop species, the atmosphere and climate regulated by computer-driven fusion technology, and the earth made over until it becomes a literal spaceship rather than a metaphorical one, with people reading displays and touching buttons on the bridge. Such is the terminus of the philosophy of exemptionalism: do not weep for the past, humanity is the new order of life, let species die if they block progress, scientific and technological genius will find another way. Look up and see the stars awaiting us.

    His final argument for action speaks to the spiritual value humanity gives to wildness in nature and the importance of not short changing all future generations by our inaction:

    We do not know what we are and cannot agree on where we want to be …
    Humanity is part of nature, a species that evolved among other species. The more closely we identify ourselves with the rest of life, the more quickly we will be able to discover the sources of human sensibility and acquire the knowledge on which an enduring ethic, a sense of preferred direction, can be built.

    I doubt this review will sway many of you to read this book. That’s okay. I often like to read book reviews as a substitute for reading book, which is why I waxed long on details. Even a schematic level of knowledge is enough sometimes to inspire an individual to take constructive actions at different levels. There are plenty of organizations that can keep non-biologist people tuned into work on solutions. If you want to explore graphical portrayals of the interacting factors at play and state of progress, I recommend a recent Internet initiative called the Biodiversity Indicators Dashboard: http://dashboard.natureserve.org/dash



    All my linguistics friends made fun of me when I took environmental biology at BYU, but it was honestly of the most spiritual classes I took there. I read this for a report in that class, and I absolutely loved it. If you want to learn more about how ecosystems work in the world in a way that will really make you appreciate the blessings of the Lord, this is a great book. This book written by double Pulitzer prize winning zoologist Edward Wilson is a little dated and at 30 years old the illustrations are a little amateurish

    ..

    But Edward Wilson, as close to a modern day Charles Darwin as there is, provides a comprehensive understanding of life on earth ranging from blue whales to bacteria.

    Highly recommended for science buffs and enjoyable for us curious lay persons.

    It makes me smile to know that amazing people like Wilson populate our world. Admittedly I didn't read this from cover to cover, but rather dipped in and out for certain bits of information as I was prepping for Journey to the Ants by the same author.

    The book is rich in knowledge and illustration, is engaging and captivating, and provides all the information you could ever require on the biodiversity of planet Earth.

    The chapters are well laid out, allowing you to dip in if you wish or read straight through.

    I don't know if its my slightly nihilistic attitude coming through but sentences that jumped out at me whilst reading were


    ..humanity is ecologically abnormal



    . (indeed we are)

    There is no way we can draw upon the resources of the planet to such a degree without drastically reducing the state of most other species





    In other words, humanity sucks the life of other species from the Earth. The Diversity of Life is a practical book (a book that shows you how to do something). The first part of the book (well over 3/4) is devoted to a general overview of evolution - its history, the mechanisms through which it works, and particularly the process of extinction. The last part is a plea, an argument to save our planet's biodiversity. He shows a few of the already-known benefits we have received from it, hoping to prove it is too valuable to be summarily destroyed. Finally, he gives his plan for saving it (which is why this is a practical book; the rest is entirely theoretical):
    1. Survey the World's Biodiversity - Learn about species, familiarize the public with them to motivate public support for preservation, and find benefits that will . . .
    2. Create Biological Wealth - Make biodiversity economically valuable, if through tourism, long-term harvesting of rain forest plots, pharmaceuticals, or new and improved agricultural products.
    3. Promote Sustainable Development - The rural poor in the Third World are destroying the world's biodiversity to put off for a short time their hunger and poverty. We must teach them ways to use biodiversity in a long-term way, and ease their poverty by removing the competition of heavily subsidized farms in the developed world and lifting debt, which can also be done so as to:
    4. Save What Remains - No scientific process like cloning, freezing, seed banks, arboretums, zoos, or botanical gardens can ever hope to truly restore an ecosystem to its original state - the climate and conditions are very difficult to reproduce, and populations will have been reduced so low that their genetic diversity will be mostly lost anyway. There is no feasible alternative to saving natural ecosystems. One of the best ways to do this in the Third World (near the equator and therefore home to a large part of the world's biodiversity) is through debt-for-nature programs, in which foundations like The Nature Conservancy or WWF, etc, buy debt in exchange for the creation of more reserves.
    5. Restore the Wildlands - Finally, we need to retake the land lost to logging, and allow the forests to grow back. This is accomplished in essentially the same way as 4. Wilson is very hopeful about this and says the next century will be the age of restoration.

    So, I agree with Wilson. I agree that his ends are of utmost importance, and that his ends would reach them. But, though I am perhaps an idealist, I am skeptical those ideas will come about. I feel like there are reasons to be skeptical, but I don't understand them yet, and want to read more before I try to explain them.

    Mortimer Adler says that when you read a practical book, and you agree that its ends are good and that its means will achieve them, you ought to go do what the book says. So, I suppose I do feel a lot more inclined to spend my life cataloging and researching organisms right now. But I am not sure I am in a position to realize the changes he suggests. Is that an excuse?

    Incidentally, I want to start an arboretum, or maybe something less ambitious to start with. I want to grow those rare plants he talks about, like amaranth and winged bean and the delicious fruits, durian and mangosteen and such. This book was not on my To-Read List but should have been. Instead, I picked it up for a buck at our library's used book sale.

    For an amateur naturalist and docent for 4th graders at a nature preserve this book perfectly addressed the main topics we try to get across to the kids: how important and delicate ecosystems are and how if you remove certain keystone species the whole habitat may collapse like the London Bridge.

    Given that the book is now more than 20 years old, I am keen to read a more recent book on the same topic to see if Wilson's predictions have come true with respect to estimates of species yet undiscovered and unnamed and more importantly, of those that have gone extinct.

    I wonder if kids of the future will see tigers, lions, wolves, elephants, gorrillas, etc. the same way we have seen dinosaurs, mammoths and saber-toothed tigers--only in cartoons and movies. I heard about this book and this author/scientist at roughly the same time (probably scientist first, then book, then author), but it was not my first E. O. Wilson book to read. Sometimes, when I hear too much about a book, it makes me want to read it less.

    So, when I found myself amongst the impossibly tall stacks in the evolutionary biology section of Powells Books for the first time, E. O. Wilson's name immediately jumped out at me as familiar, as did the title The Diversity of Life, but I was not yet ready to read it. I chose instead Consilience, and found myself immediately enamored with Wilson's eloquence, and his ability to make science accessible without for a moment dumbing it down.

    The Diversity of Life follows this pattern of eloquence, and I steamrolled my way through it far faster than I had expected. Toward the end, I felt a little as I did about Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, in the sense that Wilson wasn't telling me anything he hadn't already beaten to death over the first three quarters of the book. Despite the repetitive subject matter, Wilson's writing is still fascinating to read, and I look forward to my next Wilson book. This is an important book that everyone should read but I couldn't help but feel Wilson missed a great opportunity here. Those of us who are familiar with the importance of bio diversity will find much to appreciate in this book. His analysis is cogent and it would take someone who is willfully ignorant to take issue.

    Nevertheless, for the amateur naturalist, I think that the failure to include even a short section on what one can do in their own community was a terrible missed opportunity. I understand the rain forests contain the greatest number of plants and animals, but I'll never see these places, let alone be able to make much of a difference by helping to preserve that diversity. I couldn't help but think it would have been really great for him to mention something as simple as planting milkweed for our fast disappearing Monarch butterflies.

    Oh well, still a very good book. EO Wilson is just excellent. Writer. Ant Entomologist. Ecologist. This 400 page paperback is an introduction to biogeography, paleontology (including paleobotany), how humans are impacting various ecosystems from the rainforests, to the oceans, to the temperate regions like the US, to the Arctic. Extremely clearly written. Lets you in on the secrets of what's being destroyed as we humans expand our activities. And tells you the rate of death. Those species with only 500 individuals will not survive. No black rhinos. This book lays out the reasons why (breeding populations are usually 10% of the whole population and 50 males with 50 females will not preserve enough of the species diversity to reproduce with out destructive genes being expressed). Q: What broods, can be green at the gills and is occasionally found in abysmal depths, with its mouth transfixed in the perennial O of astonishment?
    A: A biologist.

    What else could they feel, those that truly delight in their work, when in the midst of their beloved specimens they continuously discover omens of imminent destruction? When they emerge from the fey halls of majestic metamorphosis, only to behold vast fields of felled trees and scorched earth, ominously still in deathly silence? When their symposia turn funereal vigils in the wake of reports of extinction and rapacious advancement of human devastation?

    Perhaps some are able to keep going due to optimism or a deluge of work to keep their minds busy. But if they share the devotion that Wilson's The Diversity of Life imparts, one simply shudders to think of their drooping circles and their ashen skins.

    Here the reader is given a comprehensive overview of biodiversity from bottom to top. The book covers history of life, some basic principles and shortcomings of science, the nitty-gritty of diversity and intimates the vast web of causality that Nature has spun for Herself throughout eons. All these are mottled with astute examples, even to a point of saturation. Best of all, it is all told in a voice that's not only very proper, knowledgeable and wise - it is also beautifully poetic. Wilson writes superbly.

    Everybody loves an eye-opener, and this one added yet another pair of toothpicks to keep my lids open in the wee small hours. It would be pointless to describe any of the content more specifically, since it's all so well explained within the book itself. This is a read for those, who love knowledge and want to act responsibly, but also for those who admire an author who can write beautifully, argue with gusto
    but isn't afraid to show their own underbelly. This book is for such people, but rest assured it won't be a light summer read - the language is technical and the content pregnant with justifiable concern for the future of species.

    An out-and-out classic, both in its Ciceronian delivery and Darwinian message.

    PS. Here's a nifty little checklist for you, if you'd like to save our lovely little globe!

    1. Survey the world's fauna and flora.
    2. Create biological wealth.
    3. Promote sustainable development.
    4. Save what remains.
    5. Restore the wildlands.

    That should do the trick! "/>
  • Paperback
  • 432 pages
  • The Diversity of Life
  • Edward O. Wilson
  • English
  • 10 December 2018
  • 9780393319408