HOW THE EARTHQUAKE BIRD GOT ITS NAME: And Other Tales of an Unbalanced Nature

H. H. Shugart, Author . Yale Univ. $30 (240p) ISBN 978-0-300-10457-8

The "balance of nature" trope beloved of lion vs. wildebeest wildlife documentaries reassures viewers of the robustness of the ecological equilibrium. This engaging collection of essays, by contrast, emphasizes the fragility of nature's equilibrium by exploring the wide-ranging, often irreversible, consequences of disturbing it. Ecologist Shugart structures each chapter around a paradigmatic animal species whose travails or triumphs illustrate important principles of environmental change. Some, like the now extinct ivory-billed woodpecker, are done in by habitat depletion, while others, like the European rabbits that overran Australia, are themselves the agents of natural catastrophe by virtue of their own success. While Shugart explores the effects of earthquakes and wildfires, people are a constant presence in these stories; their pervasive destabilizing effects on the environment are comparable, in his view, to the asteroid impacts that touched off the mass extinctions of ages past. Along the way, Shugart explains concepts in theoretical ecology and ladles out plenty of fascinating lore on such topics as the domestication of animals and the amazing methods by which migratory birds navigate the globe. The result is a lucid, thought-provoking science popularization with an unobtrusive environmentalist message. (Jan.)

Reviewed on: 11/29/2004
Release date: 01/01/2005
Open Ebook - 240 pages - 978-0-300-12860-4
Paperback - 227 pages - 978-0-300-12270-1
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