cover image OUT OF EDEN: An Odyssey of Ecological Invasion

OUT OF EDEN: An Odyssey of Ecological Invasion

Alan Burdick, . . Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $25 (336pp) ISBN 978-0-374-21973-4

To be human is to change our habitat; this is one of the many insights in this thought-provoking account on the ecology of invasions, a hot new science in which new discoveries swiftly overturn old theories. Now that our habitat is global, creatures emigrate with us at an ever-accelerating pace, carried in ship ballast (a bivalve mollusk from England to Massachusetts), imported by nostalgic birders (once native birds returning from disappearance) or crawling into airplanes on their own (the brown tree snake from Australia to Hawaii). Even NASA's space probes carry potential invaders. If these creatures make new homes for themselves, they may eat other species into extinction, infect them with new diseases, even reconfigure an entire ecosystem. Burdick's fascination with the science is contagious, and he does a superior job of conveying the salient points of classic experiments. The Discover senior editor is at his best following invasion ecologists—a lively bunch—as they do their gritty, often ambiguous research in Guam and Hawaii, along the margins of the San Francisco Bay and on the deck of an oil tanker. His vivid descriptions add the pleasure of travelogue to the intellectual satisfactions of science: "Travel is a weekend away, a reward upon retirement, a chance gift won in a game show or a sweepstakes. Honey, we're going to Hawaii! Applied by biologists to nonhuman organisms, the phenomenon is known as the ecological sweepstakes, and it explains how life arrives at a place like Hawaii to begin with." This is a captivating book with wide-ranging appeal. 6 illus. Agent, Flip Brophy. (May)