Wednesday, May 15, 2013
SUMMARY: New species of animal and plant are being discovered all the time. When this happens, the new species has to be given a scientific, Latin name in addition to any common, vernacular name. In either case the species may be named after a person, often the discoverer but sometimes an individual they wished to honour or perhaps were staying with at the time the discovery was made. Species names related to a person are ‘eponyms’. Many scientific names are allusive, esoteric and even humorous, so an eponym dictionary is a valuable resource for anyone, amateur or professional, who wants to decipher the meaning and glimpse the history of a species name.
Sometimes a name refers not to a person but to a fictional character or mythological figure. The Forest Stubfoot Toad Atelopus farci is named after the FARC, a Colombian guerrilla army who found refuge in the toad’s habitat and thereby, it is claimed, protected it. Hoipollo's Bubble-nest Frog Pseudophilautus hoipolloi was named after the Greek for ‘the many’, but someone assumed the reference was to a Dr Hoipollo. Meanwhile, the man who has everything will never refuse an eponym: Sting's Treefrog Dendropsophus stingi is named after the rock musician, in honour of his ‘commitment and efforts to save the rainforest’.
Following the success of their Eponym Dictionary of Reptiles, the authors have joined forces to give amphibians a similar treatment. They have tracked down 1,609 honoured individuals and composed for each a brief, pithy biography. In some cases these are a reminder of the courage of scientists whose dedicated research in remote locations exposed them to disease and even violent death. The eponym ensures that their memory will survive, aided by reference works such as this highly readable dictionary. Altogether 2,668 amphibians are listed.
RECOMMENDATION: Herpetologists will find this book to be a useful reference.
2) Nedosekov, Boris. Birds of Uzbekistan: Photoalbum. 2012. Hertfordshire Press. Hardbound: 100 pages. Price: £25.00 (about $38.00 U.S.).
SUMMARY: This is a superb collection of full-colour photographs provided by the members of Uzbekistan Society for the Protection of Birds, with text in both English and in Russian.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union and Uzbekistan’s declaration of independence in 1991, unlike in other Central Asian states there have been no such illustrated books published about the birds of this country’s rich and diverse wildlife.
There are more than 500 species of birds in Uzbekistan, with 32 included in the International Red Data Book. After independence, Uzbekistan began to attract the attention of foreign tourist companies, and particularly those specialising in ornithological tourism and birdwatching. Birds of Uzbekistan is therefore a much-needed and timely portrait of this element of the country’s remarkable wildlife.
RECOMMENDATION: Basically this book is a photographic introduction to the birds of the region, not a field guide.
Tuesday, May 14, 2013
SUMMARY: More than 10,000 years ago spectacularly large mammals roamed the pampas and jungles of South America. This book tells the story of these great beasts during and just after the Pleistocene, the geological epoch marked by the great ice ages. Megafauna describes the history and way of life of these animals, their comings and goings, and what befell them at the beginning of the modern era and the arrival of humans. It places these giants within the context of the other mammals then alive, describing their paleobiology—how they walked; how much they weighed; their diets, behavior, biomechanics; and the interactions among them and with their environment. It also tells the stories of the scientists who contributed to our discovery and knowledge of these transcendent creatures and the environment they inhabited. The episode known as the Great American Biotic Interchange, perhaps the most important of all natural history "experiments," is also an important theme of the book, tracing the biotic events of both North and South America that led to the fauna and the ecosystems discussed in this book.
RECOMMENDATION: For those with a technical interest in Pleistocene mammals.
Sunday, May 12, 2013
Tuesday, May 7, 2013
SUMMARY: Penguins, among the most delightful creatures in the world, are also among the most vulnerable. The fragile status of most penguin populations today mirrors the troubled condition of the southern oceans, as well as larger marine conservation problems: climate change, pollution, and fisheries mismanagement. This timely book presents the most current knowledge on each of the eighteen penguin species-from the majestic emperor penguins of the Antarctic to the tiny blue penguins of New Zealand and Australia, from the northern rockhopper penguins of the South Atlantic and Indian oceans to the Galapagos penguins of the equator - written by the leading experts in the field.
The discussion of each species includes the life history, distribution, population sizes and trends, and International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) status, as well as threats to survival and legal protections, if any. The book also provides information on current conservation efforts, outlines the most important actions to be taken to increase each population's resilience, and recommends further research needed to protect penguins and the other living creatures that share their environment.
Beautifully illustrated with full-color photographs of each species in their natural habitat and detailed charts and graphs, Penguins will be an invaluable tool for researchers, conservation groups, and policy makers. It will also enchant anyone interested in the lives or the plight of these fascinating animals.
RECOMMENDATION: For those with a semi-technical or technical interest in penguins.
2) Grande, Lance. The Lost World of Fossil Lake: Snapshots from Deep Time. 2013. The University of Chicago Press. Hardbound: 425 pages. Price: $45.00 U.S.
SUMMARY: The landscape of southwestern Wyoming around the ghost town of Fossil is beautiful but harsh; a dry, high mountain desert with cool nights and long, cold winters inhabited by a sparse mountain desert community. But during the early Eocene, more than fifty million years ago, it was a subtropical lake, surrounded by volcanoes and forests and teeming with life. Buried within the sun-baked limestone is spectacular evidence of the lush vegetation and plentiful fauna of the ancient past, a transitional ecosystem giving us clues to how North America recovered from a great extinction event that wiped out dinosaurs and the majority of all species on the planet.
Paleontologists have been conducting excavations at Fossil Butte for more than 150 years, and with The Lost World of Fossil Lake, one of the world’s leading experts on the fossils from this spectacular locality takes readers on a fascinating journey through the history of the discovery and exploration of the site. Deftly mixing incredible color photographs of the remarkable fossils uncovered at the site with an explanation of their evolutionary significance, Grande presents an unprecedented, comprehensive portrait of the site, its treasures, and what we’ve learned from them. Grande presents a broad range of fossilized organisms from Fossil Lake—from single-celled algae to palm trees to crocodiles—and together they make this long-extinct community come to life in all its diversity and splendor. A field guide and atlas round out the book, enabling readers to identify and classify the majority of the known fossils from the site.
Lavishly produced in full color, The Lost World of Fossil Lake is a stunning reminder of the intellectual and physical beauty of scientific investigation—and a breathtaking window onto our planet’s long-lost past.
RECOMMENDATION: A must have for those with an interest in Wyoming paleontology.
3) Leaf, Sue. A Love Affair with Birds: The Life of Thomas Sadler Roberts. 2013. University of Minnesota Press. Hardbound: 271 pages. Price: $29.95 U.S.
SUMMARY: Imagine a Minneapolis so small that, on calm days, the roar of St. Anthony Falls could be heard in town, a time when passenger pigeons roosted in neighborhood oak trees. Now picture a dapper professor conducting his ornithology class (the university’s first) by streetcar to Lake Harriet for a morning of bird-watching. The students were mostly young women—in sunhats, sailor tops, and long skirts, with binoculars strung around their necks. The professor was Thomas Sadler Roberts (1858–1946), a doctor for three decades, a bird lover virtually from birth, the father of Minnesota ornithology, and the man who, perhaps more than any other, promoted the study of the state’s natural history. A Love Affair with Birds is the first full biography of this key figure in Minnesota’s past.
Roberts came to Minnesota as a boy and began keeping detailed accounts of Minneapolis’s birds. These journals, which became the basis for his landmark work The Birds of Minnesota, also inform this book, affording a view of the state’s rich avian life in its early days—and of a young man whose passion for birds and practice of medicine among Minneapolis’s elite eventually dovetailed in his launching of the beloved Bell Museum of Natural History.
Bird enthusiast, doctor, author, curator, educator, conservationist: every chapter in Roberts’s life is also a chapter in the state’s history, and in his story acclaimed author Sue Leaf—an avid bird enthusiast and nature lover herself—captures a true Minnesota character and his time.
RECOMMENDATION: For those with an interest in Minnesota ornithological history.
4) Prothero, Donald R.. Rhinoceros Giants: The Paleobiology of Indricotheres. 2013. Indiana University Press. Hardbound: 141 pages. Price: $42.00 U.S.
SUMMARY: Written for everyone fascinated by the huge beasts that once roamed the earth, this book introduces the giant hornless rhinoceros, Indricotherium. These massive animals inhabited Eurasia for more than 14 million years, about 37 to 23 million years ago. They had skulls 6 feet long, stood 22 feet high at the shoulder, and were twice as heavy as the largest elephant ever recorded, tipping the scales at 44,100 pounds. Fortunately, the big brutes were vegetarians. Donald R. Prothero tells their story, from their discovery just a century ago to the latest research on how they lived and died.
RECOMMENDATION: For those with a semi-technical or technical interest in these mammals.
Tuesday, April 30, 2013
Sunday, April 28, 2013
Friday, April 26, 2013
SUMMARY: The pigeon is the quintessential city bird. Domesticated thousands of years ago as a messenger and a source of food, its presence on our sidewalks is so common that people consider the bird a nuisance—if they notice it at all. Yet pigeons are also kept for pleasure, sport, and profit by people all over the world, from the “pigeon wars” waged by breeding enthusiasts in the skies over Brooklyn to the Million Dollar Pigeon Race held every year in South Africa.
Drawing on more than three years of fieldwork across three continents, Colin Jerolmack traces our complex and often contradictory relationship with these versatile animals in public spaces such as Venice’s Piazza San Marco and London’s Trafalgar Square and in working-class and immigrant communities of pigeon breeders in New York and Berlin. By exploring what he calls “the social experience of animals,” Jerolmack shows how our interactions with pigeons offer surprising insights into city life, community, culture, and politics. Theoretically understated and accessible to interested readers of all stripes, The Global Pigeon is one of the best and most original ethnographies to be published in decades.
RECOMMENDATION: An interesting look at how Humans interact with the domestic Rock Pigeon.