The Biodiversity Crisis: Losing What Counts

Michael J. Novacek, Editor, Ellen V. Futter, Foreword by, Michael J. Novacek, Introduction by
Michael J. Novacek, Editor, Ellen V. Futter, Foreword by, Michael J. Novacek, Introduction by New Press $19.95 (224p) ISBN 978-1-56584-570-1
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Five times, many or most living species have gone kaput--last time around, the casualties were dinosaurs, and the culprit was (probably) a big rock from space. The ""sixth major mass extinction"" (in Novacek's words) is taking place right now, and the culprit is us. The casualties are big cats, rare beetles, obscure fungi, flightless waterfowl and many others--but nobody knows how many: deforestation, erosion, pollution, global warming and other hazards of modern life are wiping out species faster than we can discover them, and much faster than we can assess their possible benefits. Novacek, a fossil/mammal expert at the American Museum of Natural History, has assembled a squadron of top guns from relevant fields--among them evolutionary biology, paleontology, environmental chemistry and economics--to explain what's gone wrong in various ecosystems and how the damage might be mitigated. Twenty-three essays by 27 hands--and a brace of one- and two-page case studies and profiles of scientists and activists--set forth our current crisis in three parts: the first explains big issues (what's biodiversity? what's deforestation?); the second describes particular species' extinctions; the third shows how people (and governments) might start ""Saving Biodiversity."" E.O. Wilson explains what's at stake in the current wave of extinctions. The World Wildlife Fund's Theo Colborn, along with two collaborators, tracks down ""hormone-disrupting chemicals"" that skew reproduction in people and animals. Prashant Hedao relates how ""conservation planners"" make maps to decide what habitats to save. Crammed with attractive drawings, photos and large-type sidebars, Novacek's book accompanies and celebrates the Museum of Natural History's newish (1998) Hall of Biodiversity; the volume reprises the caption- and picture-heavy look and feel of the museum's 1999 volume Epidemic!: The World of Infectious Disease. (Apr.)
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