In a Desert Garden: Love and Death Among the Insects

John Alcock, Author, Turid Forsyth, Illustrator W. W. Norton & Company $27.5 (192p) ISBN 978-0-393-04118-7
A patch of desert that might appear barren to an unknowing eye teems with diverse life for Alcock, professor of zoology at Arizona State University. In this appealing account of his creation of a desert ecosystem in his suburban Tempe yard, Alcock describes the varied flora and fauna that have adapted to this intensely hot, dry climate. He welcomes the cacti, paloverdes, globe mallow and brittlebush that, unlike the water-craving lawns most of his neighbors try to maintain, attract desert wildlife--particularly Alcock's special love, insects. His yard becomes home to earwigs, rove beetles, sleeping bees, white flies and even termites, which he observes with fascination and meticulous care. He describes distinctive mating habits (such as copulatory cannibalism among mantises and redback spiders) and innovative strategies for survival. He explains the sometimes devastating impact of non-native intruders like the red brome grass imported for cattle; now dominant in the area, red brome creates a precondition for summer wildfires. ""Out goes the complex, three-dimensional, highly diverse chaparral of the desert and in comes a unidimensional, uninteresting prairie,"" Alcock laments. He is even more discouraged by the trend in his area toward urban sprawl, with its implicit threat to desert ecosystems. But while the cravings for lawns and golf courses grows unchecked, Alcock's own yard remains a refuge and an inspiration. ""Every time I walk on my front yard,"" he writes, ""I know that whole worlds thrive beneath my feet, but not beneath my interest."" Line drawings and color photos add to the book's considerable charm. (Aug.)
Reviewed on: 09/01/1997
Release date: 09/01/1997
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