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In this book a master scientist tells the story of how life on earth evolved. Edward O. Wilson eloquently describes how the species of the world became diverse and why that diversity is threatened today as never before. A great spasm of extinction — the disappearance of whole species — is occurring now, caused this time entirely by humans. Unlike the deterioration of the pIn this book a master scientist tells the story of how life on earth evolved. Edward O. Wilson eloquently describes how the species of the world became diverse and why that diversity is threatened today as never before. A great spasm of extinction — the disappearance of whole species — is occurring now, caused this time entirely by humans. Unlike the deterioration of the physical environment, which can be halted, the loss of biodiversity is a far more complex problem — and it is irreversible. Defining a new environmental ethic, Wilson explains why we must rescue whole ecosystems, not only individual species. He calls for an end to conservation versus development arguments, and he outlines the massive shift in priorities needed to address this challenge. No writer, no scientist, is more qualified than Edward O. Wilson to describe, as he does here, the grandeur of evolution and what is at stake. "Engaging and nontechnical prose. . . . Prodigious erudition. . . . Original and fascinating insights." — John Terborgh, New York Review of Books, front page review "Eloquent. . . . A profound and enduring contribution." — Alan Burdick, Audubon...

Title : The Diversity of Life
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ISBN : 9780393319408
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 432 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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The Diversity of Life Reviews

  • Michael
    2018-12-28 15:34

    This represents an outstanding overview of the worldwide threat to biodiversity, an accessible presentation of relevant principles of ecology, and an outline of promising lines of action to save ourselves from our suicidal path. For a scientist, Wilson is surprisingly eloquent and skillful in conveying a lot of information and issues without coming off like a textbook. By coincidence, the Pope just this week presented an Encyclical which exhorted politicians and individuals everywhere to do everything possible to preserve biodiversity.If you are like me, it’s easy to get struck dumb with hopeless, depressing feelings over facts continually dumped on our heads about species loss linked to the progressive destruction of natural habitats. But, as with a health threat, a clear diagnosis, prognosis, and comprehensive preventative and treatment plans do wonders in helping one face dark truths. For me, Wilson’s book makes a great complement to a recent read of Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction, which balances a journalistic and history of science approach to the same issues relating to the recent age as one comparable to five other mass extinctions in geological time (now termed the Antropocene). They cover some of the same ground in highlighting how the current ecological catastrophe in modern times is just an extension of human impact on species loss by hunting and habitat destruction everywhere he expanded out from Africa and Eurasia. For example, the Paleo-Indian invasion of America across the Bering Strait land bridge about 12,000 years ago is linked to the loss of many prominent large mammals (“If this were a trial, the Paleo-Indians could be convicted on circumstantial evidence alone, since the coincidence in time is so exact”). I like his portrayal of a virtual American Serengeti awaiting humans:From one spot, say on the edge of a riverine forest looking across open terrain, you could have seen herds of horses (the extinct, pre-Spanish kind), long-horned bison, camels, antelopes of several species, and mammoths. There would be glimpses of sabertooth cats, possibly working together in lionfish prides, giant dire wolves, and tapirs. Around a dead horse might be gathered the representatives of a full adaptive radiation of scavenging birds: condors, huge condor-like teratorns, carrion storks, eagles, haks, and vultures, dodging and threatening one another …Although Wilson’s book was published in 1992, it is great for expanding my knowledge of the basic science through clear examples. What is a species, what contributes to their formation and extinctions, what is an ecosystem, and what is known about dependencies between species? I especially appreciated his emphasis of how little we know. We may know about a good fraction of vertebrates on our planet, but the vast majority of invertebrates and plants are as yet unidentified. We may know something of less than 2 million species, but we can only guess if there are 10 million or 100 million more out there (not counting even vaster numbers of unknown microorganisms). The riot of life in the tropical rain forests has long been largely inaccessible because of their remoteness and concentration of species high off the ground. When scientists fogged single trees with insecticides, they found each one had hundreds of unknown species of bugs. Thousands of orchids and other parasitic plants called epiphytes reside out of sight in the canopy, each one of which can provide niches for unique fungi, mosses, insects, and snails. One thing I never thought much about before is how the loss of an individual species usually involves extinction of others which depend on them, including an array of specialized microparasites. Beyond the squeamish recognition of critters in my eyelashes and skin and of gut bacteria, think of comparable niches on the bodies of every mammal and bird. Even insects have their fellow travelers. Wilson describes a special mite (a blood sucking arthropod) that forms a boot on the foot of a particular ant. Such interdependency between species and complexities in food webs are areas we only begin to scratch the surface. For example, the discovery that all vascular plants depend on a symbiosis with fungi in their root systems is relatively recent. We don’t know how many species can be lost from an ecosystem before the whole thing collapses. When one species gets attention as endangered (e.g. panda, tiger, songbird), Wilson educates us to think of them as a sentinel or stand-in for the larger set associated with their particular habitat and ecosystem.If a species is lost in the forest and no one is aware of it, did it happen? An insidious aspect of our ignorance is the silent disappearance of species we know nothing about. Some volunteer biologists mapped an incredible array of new species on a ridge containing a dry tropical forest on a ridge in the foothills of the Ecuadoran Andes, a habitat isolated by valleys and elevation. Returning later, the ridge had been clear-cut. What would have been an invisible loss of species was accidentally documented:Around the world such anonymous extinctions—call them “centinalan extinctions”—are occurring, not open wounds for all to see and rush to staunch but unfelt internal events, leakages from vital tissue out of sight. Any number of rare local species are disappearing just beyond the edge of our attention. They enter oblivion like the dead of Gray’s Elegy, leaving at most a name, a fading echo in a far corner of the world, their genius unused.In other cases, the smoking gun of human blunder is obvious to discern. In the Great Lakes of East Africa resides an amazing adaptive radiation of hundreds of cichlid fish species reminiscent of the Galapagos finch diversity that inspired Darwin. The introduction of an aggressive Nile perch species into Lake Victoria as a game fish in the 1920s led so far to disappearance of half the cichlid species. The contribution of alien species to accelerated extinction rates is an old story for human impact. In addition to predation by pets like dogs and cats, the human spread of critters like rats and inadvertent spread of disease organisms has contributed to doom of many a species. Wilson is quite engaging in introducing the reader to the new specialized fields within ecology of biodiversity science and conservation biology. The relationship of species survival and sustained diversity to population size and geographical space is a basic challenge. Biogeographical studies of islands reveal some principles, such as how a tenfold increase in area is typically linked to sustaining about twice as many species. Studies by Jared Diamond and associates of islands formed by rising seas after the last ice age confirmed the inverse relationship for species loss after restriction in habitat area. From such a mathematical relationship, Wilson presented an estimate for species loss of 10-20% over 30 years associated with rates of worldwide rain forest destruction. At the end of the 80’s, the rate of rainforest loss approached 2% of the total per year, which he translated to an area the size of the 48 continental states of the U.S. sustaining annual losses of an area the size of Florida. Fortunately, the rate of tropical deforestation has dropped since then (a recent estimate I saw was about .5% per year for the two decades up to 2010). The last quarter of the book deals with arguing for the value of biodiversity and a range of promising practices and strategies to preserve it. If the reader doesn’t need or want all the biological foundations for the problem of biodiversity, they could profit in understanding and hope by reading this section by itself. An obvious problem to addressing the threat to biodiversity is that the richest ecosystems and most species are in tropical areas and in the hands of the poorest nations. Much deforestation is due not to corporate level forestry and cattle ranching, but to individual poor families clearing land to survive: The raging monster upon the land is population growth. In its presence, sustainability is but a fragile theoretical construct. To say, as many do, that the difficulties of nations are not due to people but to poor ideology or land-use management is sophistic.Big solutions are needed to preserve ecosystems, starting with priority hot spots. The wealthy nations and international corporations may have been villains of exploitation in the past, but now they must work together and invest in solutions. Major goals for concerted teamwork between science, business, and government include: 1) survey the world’s fauna and flora; 2) create biological wealth; 3) promote sustainable development, 4) save what remains, 5) restore the wildlands. Some of his ideas for exploiting new food sources or alternative sources for fibers are of interest to individuals wanting to make a difference. His support of aquaculture as a major solution has come under serious criticism for inefficiency and practices that cause much pollution. Since the book was written, the effect of ocean acidification on coral reefs has turned out to be a huge problem seeming beyond the scope of the solutions he proposes for land ecosystems.The concept that zoos, botanical gardens, seed banks, and tissue banks will have a major impact for conservation he sees as a pipe dream. He is quite eloquent in quashing certain forms of complacency:It is also possible for some to dream that people can go on living comfortably in a biologically impoverished world. They suppose that a prosthetic environment is within the power of technology, that human life can still flourish in a completely humanized world, where medicines would all be synthesized from chemicals off the shelf, food grown from a few dozen domestic crop species, the atmosphere and climate regulated by computer-driven fusion technology, and the earth made over until it becomes a literal spaceship rather than a metaphorical one, with people reading displays and touching buttons on the bridge. Such is the terminus of the philosophy of exemptionalism: do not weep for the past, humanity is the new order of life, let species die if they block progress, scientific and technological genius will find another way. Look up and see the stars awaiting us.His final argument for action speaks to the spiritual value humanity gives to wildness in nature and the importance of not short changing all future generations by our inaction:We do not know what we are and cannot agree on where we want to be …Humanity is part of nature, a species that evolved among other species. The more closely we identify ourselves with the rest of life, the more quickly we will be able to discover the sources of human sensibility and acquire the knowledge on which an enduring ethic, a sense of preferred direction, can be built.I doubt this review will sway many of you to read this book. That’s okay. I often like to read book reviews as a substitute for reading book, which is why I waxed long on details. Even a schematic level of knowledge is enough sometimes to inspire an individual to take constructive actions at different levels. There are plenty of organizations that can keep non-biologist people tuned into work on solutions. If you want to explore graphical portrayals of the interacting factors at play and state of progress, I recommend a recent Internet initiative called the Biodiversity Indicators Dashboard: http://dashboard.natureserve.org/dash...

  • Emily
    2019-01-03 19:44

    All my linguistics friends made fun of me when I took environmental biology at BYU, but it was honestly of the most spiritual classes I took there. I read this for a report in that class, and I absolutely loved it. If you want to learn more about how ecosystems work in the world in a way that will really make you appreciate the blessings of the Lord, this is a great book.

  • Adam
    2019-01-14 16:48

    The Diversity of Life is a practical book (a book that shows you how to do something). The first part of the book (well over 3/4) is devoted to a general overview of evolution - its history, the mechanisms through which it works, and particularly the process of extinction. The last part is a plea, an argument to save our planet's biodiversity. He shows a few of the already-known benefits we have received from it, hoping to prove it is too valuable to be summarily destroyed. Finally, he gives his plan for saving it (which is why this is a practical book; the rest is entirely theoretical):1. Survey the World's Biodiversity - Learn about species, familiarize the public with them to motivate public support for preservation, and find benefits that will . . .2. Create Biological Wealth - Make biodiversity economically valuable, if through tourism, long-term harvesting of rain forest plots, pharmaceuticals, or new and improved agricultural products.3. Promote Sustainable Development - The rural poor in the Third World are destroying the world's biodiversity to put off for a short time their hunger and poverty. We must teach them ways to use biodiversity in a long-term way, and ease their poverty by removing the competition of heavily subsidized farms in the developed world and lifting debt, which can also be done so as to:4. Save What Remains - No scientific process like cloning, freezing, seed banks, arboretums, zoos, or botanical gardens can ever hope to truly restore an ecosystem to its original state - the climate and conditions are very difficult to reproduce, and populations will have been reduced so low that their genetic diversity will be mostly lost anyway. There is no feasible alternative to saving natural ecosystems. One of the best ways to do this in the Third World (near the equator and therefore home to a large part of the world's biodiversity) is through debt-for-nature programs, in which foundations like The Nature Conservancy or WWF, etc, buy debt in exchange for the creation of more reserves.5. Restore the Wildlands - Finally, we need to retake the land lost to logging, and allow the forests to grow back. This is accomplished in essentially the same way as 4. Wilson is very hopeful about this and says the next century will be "the age of restoration."So, I agree with Wilson. I agree that his ends are of utmost importance, and that his ends would reach them. But, though I am perhaps an idealist, I am skeptical those ideas will come about. I feel like there are reasons to be skeptical, but I don't understand them yet, and want to read more before I try to explain them.Mortimer Adler says that when you read a practical book, and you agree that its ends are good and that its means will achieve them, you ought to go do what the book says. So, I suppose I do feel a lot more inclined to spend my life cataloging and researching organisms right now. But I am not sure I am in a position to realize the changes he suggests. Is that an excuse?Incidentally, I want to start an arboretum, or maybe something less ambitious to start with. I want to grow those rare plants he talks about, like amaranth and winged bean and the delicious fruits, durian and mangosteen and such.

  • Steve Van Slyke
    2019-01-09 20:39

    This book was not on my To-Read List but should have been. Instead, I picked it up for a buck at our library's used book sale.For an amateur naturalist and docent for 4th graders at a nature preserve this book perfectly addressed the main topics we try to get across to the kids: how important and delicate ecosystems are and how if you remove certain keystone species the whole habitat may collapse like the London Bridge.Given that the book is now more than 20 years old, I am keen to read a more recent book on the same topic to see if Wilson's predictions have come true with respect to estimates of species yet undiscovered and unnamed and more importantly, of those that have gone extinct.I wonder if kids of the future will see tigers, lions, wolves, elephants, gorrillas, etc. the same way we have seen dinosaurs, mammoths and saber-toothed tigers--only in cartoons and movies.

  • Lafcadio
    2019-01-03 16:37

    I heard about this book and this author/scientist at roughly the same time (probably scientist first, then book, then author), but it was not my first E. O. Wilson book to read. Sometimes, when I hear too much about a book, it makes me want to read it less.So, when I found myself amongst the impossibly tall stacks in the evolutionary biology section of Powells Books for the first time, E. O. Wilson's name immediately jumped out at me as familiar, as did the title The Diversity of Life, but I was not yet ready to read it. I chose instead Consilience, and found myself immediately enamored with Wilson's eloquence, and his ability to make science accessible without for a moment dumbing it down.The Diversity of Life follows this pattern of eloquence, and I steamrolled my way through it far faster than I had expected. Toward the end, I felt a little as I did about Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, in the sense that Wilson wasn't telling me anything he hadn't already beaten to death over the first three quarters of the book. Despite the repetitive subject matter, Wilson's writing is still fascinating to read, and I look forward to my next Wilson book.

  • Colleen
    2018-12-31 16:49

    EO Wilson is just excellent. Writer. Ant Entomologist. Ecologist. This 400 page paperback is an introduction to biogeography, paleontology (including paleobotany), how humans are impacting various ecosystems from the rainforests, to the oceans, to the temperate regions like the US, to the Arctic. Extremely clearly written. Lets you in on the secrets of what's being destroyed as we humans expand our activities. And tells you the rate of death. Those species with only 500 individuals will not survive. No black rhinos. This book lays out the reasons why (breeding populations are usually 10% of the whole population and 50 males with 50 females will not preserve enough of the species diversity to reproduce with out destructive genes being expressed).

  • Mark Hartzer
    2018-12-28 22:34

    This is an important book that everyone should read but I couldn't help but feel Wilson missed a great opportunity here. Those of us who are familiar with the importance of bio diversity will find much to appreciate in this book. His analysis is cogent and it would take someone who is willfully ignorant to take issue.Nevertheless, for the amateur naturalist, I think that the failure to include even a short section on what one can do in their own community was a terrible missed opportunity. I understand the rain forests contain the greatest number of plants and animals, but I'll never see these places, let alone be able to make much of a difference by helping to preserve that diversity. I couldn't help but think it would have been really great for him to mention something as simple as planting milkweed for our fast disappearing Monarch butterflies. Oh well, still a very good book.

  • Dave Angelini
    2019-01-02 22:34

    As a biologist, I think is perhaps one of the most engaging and readable introductions to evolution and ecology. Anyone can read this book and not even realize they are learning the fundamentals of these fields. Wilson presents biology as a travelogue around the world and through time.

  • Ilya
    2019-01-19 22:58

    Life on Earth is fantastically, extravagantly diverse, something a nonbiologist rarely thinks about. Something few nonbiologists also realize is how poorly it is known to science. One would think that all the mammals have already been discovered, but no, in the 1980s and the 1990s, a new lemur species was discovered in Madagascar, a new deer species in Vietnam, a new monkey species in Gabon, a new whale species in the Pacific, and so on. One would also think that all the animal phyla (the phylum is the basic body plan of an animal, different between a human, a leech, a ladybug and a snail) have also been discovered, but no, in the 1980s a Danish biologist identified a quarter millimeter-long ocean floor-dwelling burrower with a previously unknown body plan. The tropics are much more diverse than the higher latitudes, since tropical species do not have to survive the winter each year and a glacial period every 10000 years. Insects are much more diverse than all the other animals, comprising three quarters of the million or so described species, and probably the vast majority of the undescribed ones. When asked, whether in the aftermath of a nuclear war insects could take over the Earth, Wilson, who is an entomologist, answered that there is no need for them to do it because they have already done so. A single tree species in Amazonia has hundreds of species of insects that live only on it, many undescribed; considering that there are many thousands of species of trees, there might be millions of undescribed species of tree-dwelling Amazonian insects. Many of these insects have bizarre lifestyles, anatomy and physiology; a certain mite attaches itself to the hind feet of a certain soldier ant, which uses the mites as stilts; a large New Guinean weevil carries lichens on its back, where smaller insects dwell. The familiar head louse, body louse and pubic louse feed exclusively on humans; the last one has a close relative that feeds exclusively on gorillas. Looking at the plumage of the stuffed specimens of an extinct parakeet under the microscope, an entomologist discovered several species of mites that lived on it and went extinct together with their host.Many of these obscure species are beneficial to humanity (40% of our pharmaceuticals come from living plants, animals and microorganisms), and many more might be if explored properly: plants or insects might secrete chemicals that act as anticancer agents or contraceptives, or they could be domesticated (a New Guinean bean is a very versatile food source, and so is amaranth, a New World herb used by the Aztecs in ritual sacrifice and therefore forbidden by the Spanish for centuries - although a Web search shows that it has now become a popular snack in Mexico; raising turtles in Amazonian floodplains produces much more meat per hectare than raising warm-blooded cattle), or if closely related to a domesticated species, they could be a source of useful genes for it (such as perennial maize or a pig that digests cellulose-rich plant material), or they could help control agricultural pests. However, none of this will happen if these species go extinct.Humans have been exterminating other animals and plants since prehistory. As any reader of Jared Diamond or Alfred Crosby knows, as soon as humans colonized the Americas, Australia, New Zealand and Madagascar, most indigenous large mammals and flightless birds went extinct from human hunting and self-defense (not so in Africa, where the native fauna evolved to fear humans). Archaeological digs find extinct subspecies and species of animals and plants (Egyptian mummies test positive for tobacco, most likely not because of Egyptian contact with the Americas but because the test recognizes the juice of some now-extinct plant of the nightshade family that was used in mummification). The process intensified in the twentieth century, and especially in the second half of the twentieth century. Study of islands in the Caribbean, which was initiated by Wilson and another biologist in the 1960s, shows that if the area occupied by an ecosystem is reduced by a factor of 10, the number of resident species falls by half, and the logarithmic proportion is approximately the same for other factors. Rainforests are now reduced to about half of their prehuman area; nobody knows, how many species have gone extinct because nobody knows, how many species were there originally, but for well-studied taxons such as birds the numbers are in the tens of percent. We are now in the middle of an extinction comparable to the K-T event that killed off the non-feathered dinosaurs. The reasons are well-known: human population growth and economic growth, which causes deforestation, water and air pollution, willful or accidental introduction of exotic species that compete with native species and infect them with diseases. And of course there is simple human stupidity and short-sightedness.

  • Emily
    2019-01-01 23:00

    A breathtaking read. Comprehensively rich and detailed in its examination of ecosystems from microscopic to epic proportions. Wilson weaves the overarching thesis ("I will give evidence that humanity has initiated the sixth great extinction spasm, rushing to eternity a large fraction of our fellow species in a single generation. And finally I will argue that every scrap of biological diversity is priceless, to be learned and cherished, and never to be surrendered without a struggle" (32)) into a captivating series of vignettes--through geological history, evolutionary processes, trends and methods, and snapshots that, however comprehensive and detailed, only begin to skim the surface of the complexity of an ecosystem on any scale. The reading itself is intense, the information pours thick from the pages, but Wilson's terrific writing style allows the story to unfold (wide-eyed, wonderful, awesome) rather than listing pages and pages of data as would be found in a textbook (the amount of info may actually rival some). It's thick enough I question how many people would actually read it in its entirety upon my suggestion, but I feel as though I couldn't recommend it highly enough. In combination with the contemporary trend of food industry literature (including Kingsolver, Pollan, Schlosser, etc.) that I have also been reading, the context Diversity of Life has added to my own background knowledge further intrigues, enriches my personal thoughts and beliefs.

  • Usfromdk
    2018-12-27 18:53

    Not really sure how to rate this so I decided not to. I may rate it later, and if I do I'll probably go into some more detail in the review. Anyway, a few preliminary points:i. The book/author politicizes and moralizes, and I hate that on principle.ii. I was _very_ close to chucking the book after the first 10-15 pages because it reads like a very long NY Times article. Here are a few illustrative quotes from the beginning:"Each evening after dinner I carried a chair to a nearby clearing to escape the noise and stink of the camp I shared with Brazilian forest workers, a place called Fazenda Dimona. [...] In the daytime cattle browsed the remorseless heat [...] Enclosed in darkness so complete I could not see beyond my outstretched hand, I was..." ('...asking myself: Who gives a crap what you was? Why am I reading this crap?')It got better. But not that much better. Incidentally the foreword is much better than the first 'proper chapter', and it's safe to say that if I'd skipped the foreword I'd never have read past page 10.iii. On the other hand there's some interesting stuff as well.Overall, I don't really think this book is worth your time. I think you'll learn much more about evolution and the diversity of life by reading e.g. Dawkins' The Ancestor's Tale instead.

  • Tim
    2018-12-22 14:59

    The Diversity of Life is more or less The Short History of Time of evolutionary ecology and biological diversity but with a disturbing twist. The cosmos and its workings are hardly threatened by man while we're destroying earth's ecosystems and its biodiversity at an alarming and depressing rate (and this book was published in 1992). The science is fascinating, and perhaps no one's better at communicating it to non-specialists than Wilson. But it's hard to imagine an ending to the story that's not very bad, possibly catastrophic (even for human life, eventually). Some of Wilson's ideas about how to address the problems seem pretty unlikely, but none of them are sci-fi or poorly thought through, much less fantasy as with too many others' ideas to save the planet (Lester Brown comes to mind). Surely better understanding of ecology and biodiversity by many more people is a place to start, probably a necessity, and this may well be the best general audience book for that purpose.

  • Devero
    2019-01-09 21:56

    Un grande saggio divulgativo.Tecnicamente sono sempre stato un poco critico verso la sociobiologia, ma si tratta appunto di questioni interne alla discussione sulla sovrainterpretazione dei dati che i biologi raccolgono in tutto il mondo. Nulla toglie a E.O.Wilson, uno dei maggiori biologi viventi nonché uno dei migliori divulgatori viventi.Un libro consigliato a tutti i curiosi del mondo, a chi vuol togliersi il paraocchi delle proprie ideologie e a chi quel paraocchi non vuole proprio metterselo.

  • Karry
    2019-01-11 16:54

    Apart from being incredibly knowledgeable about ecology and naturalism, Edward O. Wilson is also quite eloquent and articulate, a trait that is unfortunately lacking for many scientists and scientists who try to write books. He's really just one of the smartest guys to have ever trekked through the Amazon Rainforest and lived to write about it.

  • Jess Brandes
    2018-12-26 14:41

    You can't help but get pulled into the ecosystems the author describes with such detail, and you also can't help but catch at least a little of his contagious love and fascination with all of the lifeforms around us. I loved reading it, and learned a lot. But mostly I just loved reading Wilson's writing and sharing in his infectious enthusiasm for organisms and evolution.

  • Matthew Matheson
    2019-01-14 14:53

    Read all E. O. Wilson Books.

  • Jeff
    2019-01-03 14:56

    I love this book. I love it for what I learned about biodiversity and biology, and also to be able to read about this man who spent his life in healthy work.

  • Liisa
    2019-01-12 20:32

    I´m slowly making my way through some of the most influential and important biology related books. They are not required in my studies, but I think it´s good to know where the information we are taught comes from, to read about the research straight from the scientist. For conservation biology Edward O. Wilson´s The Diversity of Life is a classic, the first time someone really draws attention to the mass extinction caused by us, the humans. I found it very interesting to learn about how he made his calculations and overall, what kind of studies did he make and were made in general at the time. But most of the space is dedicated to basic ecology. Populations, evolution, adaptive radiation, ecosystems etc - things that I´ve read about over and over again. Though they are explained well, so I can´t use them as a criticism. I think that The Diversity of Life would work very well for anyone interested in biology as understanding it doesn´t require any former knowledge. Plus it has amazing pictures that make the learning process even easier. I just believed that Wilson would write more academically. I got quite a lot out of this nonetheless, and surprisingly few things are outdated.

  • Justin
    2018-12-27 16:52

    I cannot say enough about The Diversity of Life by Edward O. Wilson. I have always been intrigued by the concepts of diversity and extinction without understanding them very well. This is the book for anybody with such difficulties because they are explored so thoroughly and clearly.Species is the fundamental unit for understanding biodiversity and evolution although even this concept becomes fuzzy when speciation is still in the process of occurring through radiation. Understanding this within the context of evolution (the life and death of species) helps me understand our current diversity situation and its threats. We can't let modern media throw around words like extinction and diversity without seeing them in this light because they turn into catch phrases and lose meaning. The last few chapters are dedicated to understanding why biodiversity is so important for the well being of the planet and its inhabitants, and every page is enlightening, even for somebody who follows these issues as closely as possible in the media.Here are some standout quotes and thoughts:"Keep in mind that ecology is a far more complex subject than physics." Wow! He justifies this by saying that physics is an exact science with concrete answers whereas ecology is truly in its infancy, not because of a lack of dedicated ecologists."... normal 'background' extinction rate is about one species per one million species per year. Human activity has increased extinction between 1,000 and 10,000 times over this level in the rain forests by reduction in area alone." Stunning figure. I am very interested in this topic especially because I recently heard on Living on Earth that when on species goes extinct then others move in to fill the niche and so extinction is not a problem. Mr. Wilson presents it as a huge problem, so who is right?"The human juggernaut creates a problem of epic dimensions: how to pass through the bottleneck and reach midcentury with the least possible loss of biodiveristy and the least possible cost to humanity. In theory, at least, the minimization of extinction rates and the minimization of economic costs are compatible: the more that other forms of life are used and saved, the more productive and secure will our own species be. Future generations will reap the benefit of wise decisions taken on behalf of biological diversity by our generation."Arriving at this conclusion requires understanding a slew of other foundational concepts around how the economy should serve humanity and not the other way around and around how diversity works in a variety of ecosystems. The following quote speaks to me on several levels. First, it gives me some direction in my work in environmental education regarding what to teach. Second, it gives some direction to an environmental education program regarding its involvement in the community. In our community there is a beautiful wetland that many people want to pave over, and this quote affirms that it is important to teach the neighbors around the wetlands to value the benefits it brings to the community.Here is the quote:"The decision to make bioeconomic analysis a routine part of land management policy will protect ecosystems by assigning them future value. It can buy time against the removal of entire communities of organisms ignorantly assumed to lack such value. When local faunas and floras are better known, the decision can be taken on how to use them optimally - whether to protect them, to extract products from them on a sustainable yield basis, or to destroy their habitat for full human occupation. Destruction is anathema to conservationists, but the fact remains that most people, lacking knowledge, regard it as perfectly acceptable. Somehow knowledge and reason must be made to intrude. I am willing to gamble that familiarity will save ecosystems, because bioeconomic and aesthetic values grow as each constituent species is examined in turn - and so will sentiment in favor of preservation. The wise procedure is for law to delay, science to evaluate, and familiarity to preserve. There is an implicit principle of human behavior important to conservation: the better an ecosystem is known, the less likely it will be destroyed. As the Sengalese conservationist Baba Dioum has said, 'In the end, we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, we will understand only what we are taught.'" (pg. 330)

  • Matt Ralph
    2019-01-17 19:41

    The death of birth:‘…evolution cannot perform as in previous ages if natural environments have been crowded out by artificial ones, the phenomenon known by biologists as “the death of birth.”’ P xx (foreword).The irony of learning we have destroyed ourselves:'If there is danger in the human trajectory, it is not so much in the survival of our own species as in the fulfillment of the ultimate irony of organic evolution: that in the instant of achieving self-understanding through the mind of man, life has doomed its most beautiful creations.' P. 328Out of time:'All these considerations converge to the same conclusion: ex situ methods will save a few species otherwise beyond hope, but the light and the way for the world's biodiversity is the preservation of natural ecosystems. If that is accepted, we must face two realities squarely. The first is that the habitats are disappearing at an accelerating rate and with them a quarter of the world’s biodiversity. The second is that the habitats cannot be saved unless the effort is of immediate economic advantage to the poor people who live in and around them. Eventually idealism and high purpose may prevail around the world. Eventually an economically secure populace will treasure their native biodiversity for its own sake. But at this moment they are not secure and they, and we, have run out of time.’ P. 319.No going back:'No domestic strain I know of has re-entered the natural habitat of its ancestors and competed successfully there.' P. 288.'In a world created by natural selection, homogeneity means vulnerability.' P. 289.90% of Ecuador’s forests are destroyed. P. 253.List of catastrophes, shrinking forests, hot spots. Pp 247-268. Utterly devastating.Heartbreak. The lonely sole surviving Bachman’s warbler, last of his species, calling in futility for a female, when there are none. P. 218.Minimum critical size of ecosystems:‘The enterprise was first called the Minimum Critical Size of Ecosystems Project, MCS for short, because it's ultimate goal was to determine the smallest size a rain-forest reserve must be in order to sustain the plant and animal species native to the immediate vicinity. How much land is needed, say, to sustain 99 percent of all the original species for a hundred years? Later the study became part of the Biological Dynamics of Forest Fragments Project…’ Pp. 213-214.We are in the sixth extinction, the anthropocene:‘A complete recovery from each of the five major extinctions required tens of millions of years. In particular, the Ordovician dip needed 25 million years, the Devonian 30 million years, the Permian and Triassic (combined because they were so close together in time) 100 million years, and the Cretaceous 20 million years. These figures should give pause to anyone who believes that what Homo sapiens destroys, Nature will redeem. Maybe so, but not within any length of time that has meaning for contemporary humanity.’ P. 29.Reefs may have more diversity than rain forests, and we are losing them fast:Climate change, reef-building organisms especially vulnerable vanished over large parts of the earth. P. 28.

  • Mohammed Khogir
    2019-01-01 19:44

    This book filled me with a sense of dismay and despondency for the amount of destruction that we have wrought upon our planet's biological diversity. I am also inundated with wonder and awe at the level of biological diversity that existed and still tenuously exist on our planet todayOur children shall curse us for ruining their inheritance built by natural evolution through billions of years In the first few chapters, the author handles the explanation of the meaning of biodiversity, its origin (speciation), and its estimated extent superbly. His general account leaves you awe-struck.Later chapters describe the dismaying amount of destruction wrought by our colonizing ancestors from earlier colonizers of the new world and Australia to the later colonizations by Polynesians and Europeans, which is dwarfed by the amount of whole-sale devastation that we have brought about during the past 60 years and are still doing at an accelerated rate to this dayHis ending chapters give an account of the practical benefits to medicine and other industries that could be reaped by preserving the biosphere (since it seems many of our fellow humans don't care for its aesthetic value) and suggest methods of conserving what remains or maybe just maybe even restore some of the natural habitats that have been lost This is a great book, an eye-opener, a solemn warning that if not heeded we might forever lose an indispensable priceless part of our natural heritage that has an auspicious impact on our future

  • Sara Van Dyck
    2018-12-28 18:38

    This is a book rich with scientific detail about how biodiversity arose on the planet, how some species adapt, why others are forced to extinction by humans, and why that matters. Many ecological concepts are explained carefully, not requiring that the reader have a science background. E.O. Wilson, emeritus professor of entomology at Harvard University, does not shy from technical detail where needed. Fortunately he is such a gifted writer that he enlivens the science with colorful images: a tiny weevil is covered with a “miniature traveling garden” of algae and mosses.In the last portion of the book, “The Human Impact,” Wilson develops a favorite theme, what he calls the “biological wealth of the world.” It’s ultimately only nature and its biodiversity that give humans the air, water, and soil on which we depend. And in the last few pages Wilson goes beyond the practical, showing that humans favor environments with certain natural features. He exhibits his warmth and his passion for his field as he urges us to preserve…”the world in which the human spirit was born.”With its well-chosen examples, logical arguments, and clear writing this is an important and useful book and a wonderful way for the general reader to begin to understand the true value of our planet’s biodiversity. My name is defaulted incorrectly on most posts, so for the record, "van" is part of the last name: Sara van Dyck. Thanks..

  • Seth Hanson
    2019-01-20 21:39

    The Diversity of Life is a nonfiction book that takes a broad look at much of the life on earth, talks about the abundance of untapped potential that undiscovered life has to offer us, and finally puts forth the authors argument as to why we need to work now to start preserving and protecting what we have. The book is a passionate lesson on the wonders of nature not just through the eyes of someone who has devoted a life to its study but also to it. The author adds to the book his own experiences in the depths of the Amazon and the islands of the Pacific. This adds an emotional aspect to a book that without it would simply be a barren biology lesson. It makes the book much more readable. This book surprised me. I knew that it would be a difficult book, and was expecting something boring, a chore to read. This book was able to pull me in in a way I wasn't expecting. The emotional appeal and depth to this book, combined with the skill of the author, makes this a surprisingly engaging book. While it is a good and interesting book, I would not recommend it to anyone not looking for a challenge or very interested in conservation. It is a very difficult and long book, definitely the type of thing that someone might lose interest in.

  • Jasmin
    2019-01-19 21:00

    This book is a very comprehensive look at the immensity of biodiversity, the aspects of biodiversity we are aware of, the vast mysteries of biodiversity that we have not yet even touched upon, and why and how we might save biodiversity (and perhaps ourselves) for present and future generations. Having just completed an M.Sc. in Conservation Biology, I found that this book touched on all the topics we covered in immense details in my courses and was full of interesting examples. I found that it was extremely well written and flowed beautifully from one topic to the next. It took me a long time to get through this book, and I found myself skimming some sections, but this was not because the book was boring, it was because this is stuff I just learned about in great depth and wasn't necessarily new and exciting for me to read. In a few years, I imagine I will want to reread this book when the concepts are not so freshly imprinted/drilled in my mind. I highly recommend this book to everyone, especially to those who do not usually read science books. He explains everything so well, and it will help you to develop a perhaps improved understanding of this world we live in.

  • Troy
    2019-01-15 22:37

    My one-phrase rundown: Read it if you don't already know it.This iconic book was about biodiversity, plain and simple. What it is, what it means, how it's created and how it's maintained. The prose is well-written and the ideas are typically Wilsonian in their insight. So it's not as if I didn't think the book was good, or that Wilson isn't an impressive man in his accomplishments. I suppose the (minor) problem was that not much of it was news to me. Even back when I skimmed it - I believe they refer to that time period as The Day - I didn't consider it cutting edge. But, to be fair, the market for the book was not eggheads and conservation types, it was the teeming masses of people who didn't (don't?) even realize that beetles or fungi could be considered important. Indeed, those who didn't (don't?) spend much time or energy thinking about the sixth extinction - and what it means to us - might find the sheer weight of his diversity estimates staggering. They certainly should.If nothing else, it was a good reminder of how abundant and diverse the world around us really is. And it convinced me to read some more contemporary Wilson books.

  • Greening USiena
    2019-01-08 14:45

    Uscito all'inizio degli anni Novanta con il titolo "La diversità della vita" e ormai considerato un classico, questo libro ci conduce alla scoperta del processo evolutivo che ha prodotto, col passare delle ere, la straordinaria differenziazione delle specie animali e vegetali. Per cinque volte, negli ultimi seicento milioni di anni, questo processo ha seguito brusche interruzioni a causa di mutamenti climatici, provocati dalla deriva dei continenti o da catastrofi naturali come la caduta di un meteorite o una serie di immani eruzioni vulcaniche. Per cinque volte, l'evoluzione è riuscita a porre riparo all'impoverimento della biodiversità, ma solo dopo milioni di anni. E oggi è in corso una sesta grande fase di estinzioni, tutte dovute all'azione dell'uomo: scompaiono specie di uccelli nelle Americhe, si estinguono pesci d'acqua dolce in Africa e in Asia, sparisce la flora e la fauna delle foreste tropicali. Un disperato grido d'allarme e insieme una intensa dichiarazione d'amore per la Terra e per l'incredibile varietà di specie che la abitano.

  • Kurt
    2019-01-01 16:50

    A great book by one of the world's leading experts on the subject. People with a little more background in the biology field will appreciate this book more than I did -- it was just a little too much like a text book for me to give it 5 stars.Some major points I learned from this book include 1) For the last several thousand years our planet has had more biodiversity than at any time in its 4 billion year history, 2) Five great extinctions have occurred in earth's past -- the most recent one was 50-60 million years ago, 3) Recovery from these great extinctions usually took at least 10 million years, 4) The sixth great extinction is currently underway and it is happening at a pace and scale that dwarfs the previous extinctions, 6) Man is directly causing this current great extinction, and 7) The work of documenting and classifying and understanding the biodiversity of our planet has barely begun.What will the future hold for mankind with the loss of so much biological capital?

  • Keith Walsh
    2018-12-21 20:41

    I loved the first three quarters or four fifths of this book. In this Wilson talks about general ecology and evolution and how these things give rise to diversity. A great introduction. I think it would be perfect in a biology or ecology curriculum. The last part, however, is Wilson advocating for the preservation of this diversity. This is a point that is very important, but I didn't feel like I was learning anything new at the end. I would have liked it if this was incorporated into the main body instead, which he does do, just not enough to merit the removal of the last section. Despite this, his writing is as lively as ever (the introduction is great nature poetry, I think, especially for a scientist), and his examples are really gripping without feeling anecdotal.

  • Corey
    2019-01-10 22:53

    Well written and inspiring, as I expected. This book read like Cliff's Notes for several undergrad textbooks in ecology, evolution and conservation rolled into one. Some of it was a bit outdated - particularly the second to last chapter entitled "Resolution", as many more relevant and modern solutions have been suggested since the original publication of this book. I'm also not sure who the intended readership was. Wilson assumes readers have a basic background in biology based on the vague theoretical and conceptual explanations of terminology, but the subject matter is too basic to be intended for professional conservationists. There are a lot of great examples mentioned here, and I will definitely refer back to these in the future as I prepare to teach undergrad biology courses.

  • Sarah
    2018-12-22 15:32

    It kills me to have to leave a book unfinished, but this book was due back at the library, and I wasn't enjoying it so much as to go through the effort of reordering it to finish reading.There are some really fascinating, sobering stories about evolution, ecology, and biodiversity here, and the writing is lively, but ultimately, the contents are too dense for me to read this for pleasure.