Tuesday, June 29, 2010

New Title

     Ward, Peter D. The Flooded Earth: Our Future in a World without Ice Caps. 2010. Basic Books. Hardbound: 261 pages. Price: $25.95 U.S.

SUMMARY: Sea level rise will happen no matter what we do. Even if we stopped all carbon dioxide emissions today, the seas would rise one meter by 2050 and three meters by 2100. This—not drought, species extinction, or excessive heat waves—will be the most catastrophic effect of global warming. And it won’t simply redraw our coastlines—agriculture, electrical and fiber optic systems, and shipping will be changed forever. As icebound regions melt, new sources of oil, gas, minerals, and arable land will be revealed, as will fierce geopolitical battles over who owns the rights to them. In The Flooded Earth, species extinction expert Peter Ward describes in intricate detail what our world will look like in 2050, 2100, 2300, and beyond—a blueprint for a foreseeable future. Ward also explains what politicians and policymakers around the world should be doing now to head off the worst consequences of an inevitable transformation.
RECOMMENDATION: An interesting, yet depressing overview on sea level rise that will be caused by global warming.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

FEATURED TITLE

Fallours, Samuel. Tropical Fishes of the East Indies. 2010. Taschen. Hardbound: 224 page folio with 100 page booklet (by Theodore W. Pietsch). Price: $69.99 U.S.

SUMMARY: One of the first depictions of marine fauna comes from Samuel Fallours, who was in the service of the Dutch East India Company. On the island of Ambon, one of the Moluccas, he made drawings of fish and other marine organisms of the Indian Ocean and brought them back to Holland in 1712. His drawings belong to a number of sets of similar drawings, depicting hundreds of animals, mostly fish but also crustaceans, insects, a dugong, and even a mermaid. Some of these became the basis for 18th-century publications, among them Louis Renard's Poissons, Ecrevisses et Crabes (1719) and Fran├žois Valentijn's Verhandeling der Ongemeene Visschen van Amboina, a chapter in his Oud en Nieuw Oost-Indien (1724−1726).
     These beautiful, elaborately detailed and brilliantly colored drawings bear extraordinary witness to the marine fish fauna of the East Indies and can still be interpreted in light of present-day scientific knowledge.From an artistic and historical viewpoint, these drawings are among the finest natural history illustrations ever made.
     Samuel Fallours apparently born in Rotterdam, began his career as a common soldier in the service of the Dutch East India Company. On 27 April 1703, he sailed from Goeree, the Netherlands, to Batavia where he stayed until at least the close of 1705. By June 1706, he was serving as a soldier in Ambon, assigned to the main guard-house of Castle Victoria. From September 1706 to June 1712, he held the title of Associate Curate (krankbezoeker), a kind of assistant to the clergy, entrusted with consoling the sick of Ambon. He left the Indies for the Netherlands in November 1712. During his sojourn in Ambon, (1706-1712) Fallours executed the illustrations.
RECOMMENDATION: Anyone interested in natural history art will want this book!
 

New Title

Stanford, Craig B. The Last Tortoise: A Tale of Extinction in Our Lifetime. 2010. Belknap/Harvard. Hardbound: 210 pages. Price: $23.95 U.S.

SUMMARY: Tortoises may be the first family of higher animals to become extinct in the coming decades. They are losing the survival race because of what distinguishes them, in particular their slow, steady pace of life and reproduction.
     The Last Tortoise offers an introduction to these remarkable animals and the extraordinary adaptations that have allowed them to successfully populate a diverse range of habitats—from deserts to islands to tropical forests. The shields that protect their shoulders and ribs have helped them evade predators. They are also safeguarded by their extreme longevity and long period of fertility. Craig Stanford details how human predation has overcome these evolutionary advantages, extinguishing several species and threatening the remaining forty-five.
     At the center of this beautifully written work is Stanford’s own research in the Mascarene and Galapagos Islands, where the plight of giant tortoise populations illustrates the threat faced by all tortoises. He addresses unique survival problems, from genetic issues to the costs and benefits of different reproductive strategies. Though the picture Stanford draws is bleak, he offers reason for hope in the face of seemingly inevitable tragedy. Like many intractable environmental problems, extinction is not manifest destiny. Focusing on tortoise nurseries and breeding facilities, the substitution of proxy species for extinct tortoises, and the introduction of species to new environments, Stanford’s work makes a persuasive case for the future of the tortoise in all its rich diversity.
RECOMMENDATION: For those interested in tortoises and/or the current extinction crisis.

Monday, June 21, 2010

New Title

   Jacobs, Laura. The Bird Catcher: A Novel. 2010. Picador. Paperback: 294 pages. Price: $15.00 U.S.

SUMMARY: Margret Snow is the quintessential New York woman. She dresses the windows of Saks Fifth Avenue by day and mingles in the downtown art world by night. Married to Charles, a professor at Columbia, they live on the Upper West Side, where, carefully camouflaged within their hectic Manhattan lives, they share a mutual passion for bird watching. When Margret's life is violently shaked by tragedy, however, she discovers a means to transform her obsession with birds— and her own unlocked imagination — into an ambitious, healing work of art. The Bird Catcher is a witty, poignant story about a remarkable woman who is as distinctive as the birds that fill the skies above her.
RECOMMENDATION: An interesting summertime read that's a hybrid between Sex in the City and John James Audubon.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Recent Title

McCune, Bruce and Linda Geiser. Macrolichens of the Pacific Northwest (Second Edition). 2009. Oregon State University Press. Paperback: 464 pages. Price: $30.00 U.S.

SUMMARY: A key component in healthy ecosystems, lichens can be found in almost any natural habitat in the Pacific Northwest. This comprehensive guide to the region’s macrolichens is intended for use by beginners as well as specialists: weekend naturalists will be able to identify specimens and recognize the great diversity of lichens, while lichenologists and mycologists will gain greater knowledge of the distribution and abundance of various species.
     This revised and expanded edition of Macrolichens of the Pacific Northwest includes 116 new species and 176 additional illustrations and incorporates an understanding of macrolichens that has advanced tremendously in the past decade.
     Macrolichens of the Pacific Northwest includes keys to 113 genera and 586 species of Oregon and Washington macrolichens—all the macrolichens known or expected to occur in the two states. The keys also provide reasonable coverage for lichens of Idaho and Montana, inland to the Continental Divide. Color photographs and detailed descriptions are provided for 246 species, emphasizing lichens prevalent in forested ecosystems.
     The illustrated glossary and introductory material cover the terminology needed to identify macrolichens and provide information on collection and handling. The biology, ecology, and air-quality sensitivity of lichens are discussed; regional air-quality sensitivities are provided for 184 species.
     Macrolichens of the Pacific Northwest will prove invaluable to anyone seeking to identify lichens or to better understand these organisms and their vital role in the natural world.
RECOMMENDATION: Probably the best book on the subject for the region.

New Title

 1) Ohdachi, S.D. et al.(editors). The Wild Mammals of Japan. 2010. Shoukadoh Book Sellers. Hardbound: 544 pages. Price: about $61.73 U.S. (plus shipping).

SUMMARY: This book includes accounts for the 170 species of mammals found in Japan. Descriptions for each species include red list status, distribution, fossil record, morphology, dental and mammal formulae, genetics, reproduction, lifespan, diet, habitat, home range, behavior, natural enemies, parasites and a remarks section if needed.. Full color photos and distribution maps are also included. The book can be ordered here:
https://www2.nacos.com/shokado/mammal/index_e.php
RECOMMENDATION: For anyone with an interest in Japanese mammals.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

FEATURED TITLE



1) Phillipps, Quentin and Karen Phillipps. Phillipps' Field Guide to the Birds of Borneo. 2009. John Beaufoy Books. Paperback: 368 pages. Price: $34.59 U.S.

SUMMARY: Up-to-date and user-friendly field guide to the birds of Borneo, covering Sabah, Sarawak, Brunei, and the Indonesian states of Kalimantan. The book gives descriptions of 664 species living or reported on the island, including 51 endemic species. These are superbly illustrated in 141 colour plates with more than 2,000 full colour bird images, including most of the sexual variants and immature forms of polymorphic species. Each plate is accompanied by species descriptions covering taxonomy, size, call, range, distribution, habits and status. Distribution is shown by detailed thumbnail maps. There are 7 habitat plates, 12 regional maps showing Borneo's top 130 birdwatching sites, fast-find graphic indexes to the birds of Kinabalu, and a full overview of vegetation, climate and ecology.
RECOMMENDATION: Birders to/or from the region will find this book very useful!



  ALSO AVAILABLE:

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Forthcoming Title

  Holldobler, Bert and Edward O. Wilson. The Leafcutter Ants: Civilization by Instinct. DUE OUT: November 2010.  W.W. Norton. Paperback: 192 pages. Price: $19.95 U.S.
SUMMARY:  From the Pulitzer Prize-winning authors of The Ants comes this dynamic and visually spectacular portrait of Earth's ultimate superorganism.

     The Leafcutter Ants is the most detailed and authoritative description of any ant species ever produced. With a text suitable for both a lay and a scientific audience, the book provides an unforgettable tour of Earth's most evolved animal societies. Each colony of leafcutters contains as many as five million workers, all the daughters of a single queen that can live over a decade. A gigantic nest can stretch thirty feet across, rise five feet or more above the ground, and consist of hundreds of chambers that reach twenty-five feet below the ground surface. Indeed, the leafcutters have parlayed their instinctive civilization into a virtual domination of forest, grassland, and cropland—from Louisiana to Patagonia. Inspired by a section of the authors' acclaimed The Superorganism, this brilliantly illustrated work provides the ultimate explanation of what a social order with a half-billion years of animal evolution has achieved.

New and Recent Titles

1) Arlott, Norman. Birds of the West Indies. 2010. Collins UK /Princeton. Paperback: 240 pages. Price: $24.95 U.S.

SUMMARY: The West Indies, stretching from Grand Bahama in the north to Grenada in the south, is home to more than 550 bird species. Birds of the West Indies is the complete guide for identifying all of the diverse birds in these island territories. The guide's 80 vivid color plates are accompanied by succinct text focusing on key field-identification characteristics, and distribution maps for all species are conveniently located at the back of the guide for handy reference.
     Birds of the West Indies is the perfect companion for birders, wildlife enthusiasts, and holiday-seekers interested in this area of the world:
 1) 80 color plates featuring more than 550 bird species.

2) Concise text concentrates on field-identification characteristics.

3) Detailed distribution maps for each species ( in a section separate from the text and plates).

 4) Easy-to-use and accessible--the ideal field guide.

     
RECOMMENDATION: For those with an interest in Neotropical birds. The USA version is due out on 19 August 2010.

2) Eiseman, Charley and Noah Charney. Tracks & Sign of Insects and Other Invertebrates: A Guide to North American Species. 2010. Stackpole Books. Paperback: 582 pages. Price: $39.95 U.S.

SUMMARY: The first-ever reference to the sign left by insects and other North American invertebrates includes descriptions and almost 1,000 color photos of tracks, egg cases, nests, feeding signs, galls, webs, burrows, and signs of predation. Identification is made to the family level, sometimes to the genus or species. It’s an invaluable guide for wildlife professionals, naturalists, students, and insect specialists.
RECOMMENDATION: For anyone interested in North American invertebrates.


 
 
 
 
3) Sample, Geoff. Collins Bird Songs & Calls. 2010. Collins UK. Boxed set containing 3 CDs and a 232 page paperback book. Price: $44.95 U.S.

SUMMARY: The new Collins Bird Songs and Calls includes re-recorded versions of the original habitat CDs – ensuring that they are even clearer, but just as atmospheric – introducing the user to the major bird habitats of Britain and the birds that live in them. The new edition also contains a third CD containing a unique beginner's guide to birdsong in a course of 12 monthly sessions. Covering around 30 of the commonest garden and parkland bird species in the 12 sessions, it also gives an outline of the behavioural context – when different species sing, why they sing and what is going on in the wider bird community. The group of species featured each month will be chosen for the similarities in their voices and songs; often this will mean birds of the same family. So, for instance, it makes sense to begin with Great Tit and Blue Tit for January – some of the few birds that can be heard in that month, but also species with songs built around simple repeated patterns. By introducing a group of similar sounding birds each month – and starting with the easy birds first – this accessible guide will help you to quickly appreciate the wonderful range of bird voices and to discover just what birdsong is all about. A walk in the park will never be the same again.
RECOMMENDATION: For those wanting to learn British (and European) bird songs and calls.

4) Watson-Ferguson, Kami. Guide to Aquatic Insects & Crustaceans: Izaak Walton League of America. 2006. Stackpole Books. Paperback: 74 pages. Price: $8.95 U.S.

SUMMARY: From the damselfly to the whirligig beetle, our nation's streams are teeming with critters. This convenient, inexpensive guide allows you to identify any that you find--whether you're working on your fly tying, researching the local insect life, or just mucking around in the river. Also includes information on the river conservation and management work performed by the Izaak Walton League, making this an especially valuable resource for stream monitors, biologists, and other specialists.
RECOMMENDATION: An introduction to stream macroinvertebrates.

Monday, June 14, 2010

New Titles

1) Glick, Thomas F. What about Darwin? ALL Species of Opinion from Scientists, Sages, Friends, and Enemies Who Met, Read, and Discussed the Naturalist Who Changed the World. 2010. Johns Hopkins University Press. Paperback: 518 pages. Price: $29.95 U.S.

SUMMARY: Charles Darwin and his revolutionary ideas inspired pundits the world over to put pen to paper. In this unique dictionary of quotations, Darwin scholar Thomas Glick presents fascinating observations about Darwin and his ideas from such notable figures as P. T. Barnum, Anton Chekhov, Mahatma Gandhi, Carl Jung, Martin Luther King, Mao Tse—tung, Pius IX, Jules Verne, and Virginia Woolf.
     What was it about Darwin that generated such widespread interest? His Origin of Species changed the world. Naturalists, clerics, politicians, novelists, poets, musicians, economists, and philosophers alike could not help but engage his theory of evolution. Whatever their view of his theory, however, those who met Darwin were unfailingly charmed by his modesty, kindness, honesty, and seriousness of purpose.
     This diverse collection drawn from essays, letters, novels, short stories, plays, poetry, speeches, and parodies demonstrates how Darwin's ideas permeated all areas of thought. The quotations trace a broad conversation about Darwin across great distances of time and space, revealing his profound influence on the great thinkers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
RECOMMENDATION: For those with an interest in Charles Darwin.

2) Warkentin, Ian and Sandy Newton. Birds of Newfoundland: Field Guide. 2009. Boulder Publications. Flexibinding: 237 pages. Price: $34.95 U.S.

SUMMARY: The first comprehensive field guide dedicated solely to the birds of Newfoundland. Designed to make identifying birds quick and easy, this new field guide to the birds of Newfoundland gives birdwatchers a one-stop reference to the species most commonly seen on North America’s easternmost island. It includes profiles of more than 170 birds, tips on where to look for each species, song, habitat, breeding, and range details, and nesting information. It features 32 full-colour plates by Roger Tory Peterson, with additional images by John A. Crosby and Ralph Jarvis.
RECOMMENDATION: For birders living in or visiting Newfoundland, Canada.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Recent Title

Garrison, Rosser W. et al. Dragonfly Genera of the New World: An illustrated and annotated key to the Anisoptera. 2006. Johns Hopkins University Press. Hardbound: 368 pages. Price: $100.00 U.S.
SUMMARY: Winner of the Single Volume Reference/Science award of the Professional and Scholarly Publishing Awards given by the Association of American Publishers Outstanding Academic Title for 2007, Choice Magazine.
     Dragonfly Genera of the New World is a beautifully illustrated and comprehensive guide to the taxonomy and ecology of dragonflies in North, Middle, and South America. A reference of the highest quality, this book reveals the striking beauty and complexity of this diverse order. Although Odonata -- dragonflies and damselflies -- are among the most studied groups of insects, until now there has been no reliable means to identify the New World genera of either group. This volume provides fully illustrated and up—to—date keys for all dragonfly genera with descriptive text for each genus, accompanied by distribution maps and 1,595 diagnostic illustrations, including wing patterns and characteristics of the genitalia.
     For entomologists, limnologists, and ecologists, Dragonfly Genera of the New World is an indispensable resource for field identification and laboratory research.
RECOMMENDATION: For those with a technical interest in New World dragonflies.

FORTHCOMING COMPANION VOLUME:

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

New Titles

1) Devenish, Christian et al.(editors). Important Bird Areas Americas: Priority sites for Biodiversity conservation. 2010. Birdlife International. Hardbound: 456 pages. Price: $66.00 U.S.

SUMMARY: This directory provides a concise summary of the 2345 Important Bird Areas described to date in the Americas. The inventory represents a participative consensus on the most important sites for bird and biodiversity conservation in the hemisphere, in what is probably the most comprehensive assessment of its kind to be published. Since the beginning of the IBA program in North America in 1995, sites have now been identified in all 57 countries or territories in the region, totaling more than 3,250,000 km2.
     This book is the culmination of national IBA identification processes involving thousands of people in the Caribbean, North, Central and South America, and at least 150 governmental and non-governmental organizations. The directory is at once a high level awareness-raising publication; a decision-making tool for national and hemispheric biodiversity management and planning; and a portfolio of funding opportunities for potential donors.
RECOMMENDATION: A very useful and well illustrated guide to North and South American bird conservation.


2) Jonaitis, Aldona and Aaron Glass. The Totem Pole: An Intercultural History. 2010. University of Washington Press. Hardbound: 331 pages. Price: $50.00 U.S.

SUMMARY: The Northwest Coast totem pole captivates the imagination. From the first descriptions of these tall carved monuments, totem poles have become central icons of the Northwest Coast region and symbols of its Native inhabitants. Although many of those who gaze at these carvings assume that they are ancient artifacts, the so-called totem pole is a relatively recent artistic development, one that has become immensely important to Northwest Coast people and has simultaneously gained a common place in popular culture from fashion to the funny pages.
     The Totem Pole reconstructs the intercultural history of the art form in its myriad manifestations from the eighteenth century to the present. Aldona Jonaitis and Aaron Glass analyze the totem pole's continual transformation since Europeans first arrived on the scene, investigate its various functions in different contexts, and address the significant influence of colonialism on the proliferation and distribution of carved poles. The authors also describe their theories on the development of the art form: its spread from the Northwest Coast to world's fairs and global theme parks; its integration with the history of tourism and its transformation into a signifier of place; the role of governments, museums, and anthropologists in collecting and restoring poles; and the part that these carvings have continuously played in Native struggles for control of their cultures and their lands.
RECOMMENDATION: For anyone interested in Native American art.



  3) Ryan, Michael J., Brenda J. Chinnery-Allgeier, and David A. Eberth (editors). New Perspectives on Horned Dinosaurs. 2010. Indiana University Press. Hardbound: 624 pages. Price: $110.00 U.S.

SUMMARY: Easily distinguished by the horns and frills on their skulls, ceratopsids were one of the most successful of all dinosaurs. This volume presents a broad range of cutting-edge research on the functional biology, behavior, systematics, paleoecology, and paleogeography of the horned dinosaurs, and includes descriptions of newly identified species. This title includes 310 black-and-white illustrations and a supplemental CD-ROM.
RECOMMENDATION: For those with a technical interest in ceratopsids.



Monday, June 7, 2010

New and Recent Titles

1) Latta, Steven et al. Birds of the Dominican Republic and Haiti. 2006. Princeton University Press. Paperback: 258 pages. Price: $35.00 U.S.
SUMMARY: Birds of the Dominican Republic and Haiti fills a large void in the literature on birdwatching and the environment in these tropical countries. The first comprehensive field guide devoted to Hispaniola's birds, it provides detailed accounts for more than 300 species, including thirty-one endemic species. Included in the species descriptions are details on key field marks, similar species, voice, habitats, geographic distribution on Hispaniola, status, nesting, range, and local names used in both the Dominican Republic and Haiti. The authors also comment on ecology, behavior, and taxonomic status. The book provides color illustrations and range maps based on the most recent data available. But the authors' intent is to provide more than just a means of identifying birds. The guide also underscores the importance of promoting the conservation of migratory and resident birds, and building support for environmental measures. Information about an Iphone app can be found here: http://press.princeton.edu/blog/2010/06/02/the-birds-of-the-dominican-republic-and-haiti-iphone-app-available-all-proceeds-go-to-disaster-relief/
The Spanish version is available through Buteo Books: http://www.buteobooks.com/merchant.mvc?Screen=PROD&Store_Code=BBBAO&Product_Code=13014&Category_Code=
RECOMMENDATION: For birders with an interest in neotropical birds.

2) Voss, Julia. Darwin's Pictures: Views of Evolutionary Theory, 1837-1874. 2010. Yale University Press. Hardbound: 340 pages. Price: $45.00 U.S.

SUMMARY: In this first-ever examination of Charles Darwin’s sketches, drawings, and illustrations, Julia Voss presents the history of evolutionary theory told in pictures. Darwin had a life-long interest in pictorial representations of nature, sketching out his evolutionary theory and related ideas for over forty years. Voss details the pictorial history of Darwin’s theory of evolution, starting with his notebook sketches of 1837 and ending with the illustrations in The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals (1872). These images were profoundly significant for Darwin’s long-term argument for evolutionary theory; each characterizes a different aspect of his relationship with the visual information and constitutes what can be called an “icon” of evolution. Voss shows how Darwin “thought with his eyes” and how his pictorial representations and the development and popularization of the theory of evolution were vitally interconnected.Voss explores four of Darwin’s images in depth, and weaves about them a story on the development and presentation of Darwin’s theory, in which she also addresses the history of Victorian illustration, the role of images in science, the technologies of production, and the relationship between specimen, words, and images.
RECOMMENDATION: For those with an interest in the history of evolution.

Friday, June 4, 2010

FEATURED TITLE

     Roper, Timothy J.. Badger. 2010. Collins UK. Paperback: 386 pages. Price: $50.00 U.S.

SUMMARY: The Eurasian badger (Meles meles) has for many years occupied a unique place in the British consciousness. Despite the fact that most people have never seen one, the badger has become one of Britain's best-loved animals. The number of organisations that use the badger as a logo, the number of websites featuring information about badgers, and the number of voluntary badger protection societies that exist are testament to this popularity. In fact, the attitude of most ordinary people towards badgers is complex and contradictory, involving a combination of familiarity and ignorance, concern and indifference. For an increasing number of people, badgers constitute an important source of interest and pleasure, be it through watching them in their gardens or in the wild, sharing badger-related knowledge and experiences with others via the internet, or defending badgers against threats to their welfare. For others, on the other hand, badgers are a problem species that requires active management. In this highly anticipated new study, Prof Tim Roper explores every aspects of the biology and behaviour of these fascinating animals. In doing so, he reveals the complexities of a lifestyle that allows badgers to build communities in an astonishing variety of habitats, ranging from pristine forests to city centres. He also reveals the facts behind the controversy surrounding the badgers' role in transmitting tuberculosis to cattle, shedding new light on an issue that has resulted in one of the most extensive wildlife research programmes ever carried out.
RECOMMENDATION: A detailed monograph on the species that will appeal to mammalogists and naturalists.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

New Title

     Harman, Oren. The Price of Altruism: George Price and the Search for the Origins of Kindness. 2010. W.W. Norton. Hardbound: 451 pages. Price: $27.95 U.S.

SUMMARY: The moving tale of one man's quest to crack the mystery of altruism, an evolutionary enigma that has haunted scientists since Darwin. Survival of the fittest or survival of the nicest?
     Since the dawn of time man has contemplated the mystery of altruism, but it was Darwin who posed the question most starkly. From the selfless ant to the stinging bee to the man laying down his life for a stranger, evolution has yielded a goodness that in theory should never be. Set against the sweeping tale of 150 years of scientific attempts to explain kindness, The Price of Altruism tells for the first time the moving story of the eccentric American genius George Price (1922–1975), as he strives to answer evolution's greatest riddle. An original and penetrating picture of twentieth century thought, it is also a deeply personal journey. From the heights of the Manhattan Project to the inspired equation that explains altruism to the depths of homelessness and despair, Price's life embodies the paradoxes of Darwin’s enigma. His tragic suicide in a squatter’s flat, among the vagabonds to whom he gave all his possessions, provides the ultimate contemplation on the possibility of genuine benevolence.
RECOMMENDATION: For those with an interest in human evolutionary biology.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

New Titles

 1) Bicudo, J. Eduardo P.W. et al. Ecological and Environmental Physiology of Birds. 2010. Oxford University Press. Paperback: 317 pages. Price: $65.00 U.S.

SUMMARY: Ecological and Environmental Physiology of Birds focuses on our current understanding of the unique physiological characteristics of birds that are of particular interest to ornithologists, but also have a wider biological relevance. An introductory chapter covers the basic avian body plan and their still-enigmatic evolutionary history. The focus then shifts to a consideration of the essential components of that most fundamental of avian attributes: the ability to fly. The emphasis here is on feather evolution and development, flight energetics and aerodynamics, migration, and as a counterpoint, the curious secondary evolution of flightlessness that has occurred in several lineages. This sets the stage for subsequent chapters, which present specific physiological topics within a strongly ecological and environmental framework. These include gas exchange, thermal and osmotic balance, 'classical' life history parameters (male and female reproductive costs, parental care and investment in offspring, and fecundity versus longevity tradeoffs), feeding and digestive physiology, adaptations to challenging environments (high altitude, deserts, marine habitats, cold), and neural specializations (notably those important in foraging, long-distance navigation, and song production). Throughout the book classical studies are integrated with the latest research findings. Numerous important and intriguing questions await further work, and the book concludes with a discussion of methods (emphasizing cutting-edge technology), approaches, and future research directions.
RECOMMENDATION: For those with a technical interest in avian physiology.

2) Wells, Spencer. Pandora's Seed: The Unforeseen Cost of Civilization. 2010. Random House. Hardbound: 230 pages. Price: $26.00 U.S.

SUMMARY: Pandora’s Seed takes us on a powerful and provocative globe-trotting tour of human history, back to a seminal event roughly ten thousand years ago, when our species made a radical shift in its way of life: We became farmers rather than hunter-gatherers, setting in motion a momentous chain of events that could not have been foreseen at the time.
Although this decision to control our own food supply is what propelled us into the modern world, Wells demonstrates—using the latest genetic and anthropological data—that such a dramatic shift in lifestyle had a downside that we’re only now beginning to recognize. Growing grain crops ultimately made humans more sedentary and unhealthy and made the planet more crowded. The expanding population and the need to apportion limited resources such as water created hierarchies and inequalities. The desire to control—and no longer cooperate with—nature altered the concept of religion, making deities fewer and more influential, foreshadowing today’s fanaticisms. The proximity of humans and animals bred diseases that metastasized over time. Freedom of movement and choice were replaced by a pressure to work that is the forebear of the anxiety and depression millions feel today. Wells offers a hopeful prescription for altering a life to which we were always ill suited, recommending that we change our priorities and self-destructive appetites before it’s too late.
A riveting and accessible scientific detective story, Pandora’s Seed is an eye-opening book for anyone fascinated by the past and concerned about the future.
RECOMMENDATION: For those interested in human deep history and our future.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

New Title

    Thorbjarnarson, John and Xiaoming Wang. The Chinese Alligator: Ecology, Behavior, Conservation, and Culture. 2010. Johns Hopkins University Press. Hardbound: 265 pages. Price: $85.00 U.S.

SUMMARY: One of the world's most respected experts on crocodilians, John Thorbjarnarson (1957-2010) was a senior conservation zoologist for the Wildlife Conservation Society during the writing and designing of this book. Dr. Thorbjarnarson was a tireless advocate for conservation, and it was during one of his many conservation—related trips in early 2010 that he contracted a fatal case of malaria. Though more than 10,000 Chinese alligators live in zoos and breeding facilities, just a few hundred still exist in the wild. Much of their natural habitat has been lost to human development, leaving wild Chinese alligators clinging to small areas where the Yangtze River meets the Pacific Ocean. Thorbjarnarson and Wang recount how and why the species declined to the point where it is perhaps the most threatened of all crocodilians, discuss ongoing conservation works, and project what the future is likely to bring for the Chinese alligator. Their scientific synthesis sits in stark contrast to the alligators' unique relationship with Chinese culture, where folklore views it as a water deity related to dragons. Illustrated throughout and featuring the most up-to-date biological information available, this volume is a complete overview of the Chinese alligator, a conservation and cultural icon.
RECOMMENDATION: For anyone with an interest in the crocodilids.