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review 2018-10-05 10:39
Call of Nature: The Secret Life of Dung by Richard Jones
Call of Nature: The Secret Life of Dung - Richard Jones

TITLE:  Call of Nature:  The Secret Life of Dung

 

AUTHOR:  Richard Jones

 

DATE PUBLISHED:  2017

 

FORMAT:  Hardcover

 

ISBN-13:  978-1-78427-105-3

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DESCRIPTION:

"Journey through the digestive systems of humans, farm and wild animals, and meet some of nature's ultimate recyclers as they eat, breed in and compete for dung. The fall of bodily waste onto the ground is the start of a race against the clock as a multitude of dung-feeders and scavengers consume this rich food source. From the enigmatic dung-rolling beetles to bat guano and giant elephant droppings, dung creates a miniature ecosystem to be explored by the aspiring dung watcher.

The author completes the book with an identification guide to dung itself, so that you can identify the animal that left it behind. Pellets or pats? Scats, spraints, frass, guano, spoor learn your way around different species droppings. There's also a dung-feeder s identification guide that includes the species you re most likely to encounter on an exploration of the dung heap."

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Call of Nature is an informative, interesting, thought-provoking, well-researched and nicely illustrated book full of interesting facts by an author who is passionate about his subject.  The author's British sense of humour  and personal, relevant (but not long-winded ) anecdotes was entertaining and lightened up a book that revolves around dung and dung beetles.  Such topics as the ecological value of dung, the animal communities that make use of dung, a fond focus on dung beetles, and what happens if dung just lay around and didn't degrade (as happened in Australia), are covered in this book.  A useful identification guide to various types of animal dung and a guide to some critters that inhabit dung is also provided.  Not to mention the rather amusing scatalogical dictionary at the end. 

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review 2018-09-25 07:54
On the Wing by David E. Alexander
On the Wing: Insects, Pterosaurus, Birds, Bats and the Evolution of Animal Flight - David E. Alexander

TITLE:  On the Wing: Insects, Pterosaurus, Birds, Bats and the Evolution of Animal Flight

 

AUTHOR:  David E. Alexander

 

DATE PUBLISHED:  2015

 

FORMAT:  Hardcover

 

ISBN-13:  9780199996773

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DESCRIPTION:

"Ask anybody what superpower they wished to possess and odds are the answer just might be "the ability to fly." What is it about soaring through the air held up by the power of one's own body that has captivated humans for so long? David Alexander examines the evolution of flight in the only four animals to have evolved this ability: insects, pterosaurs, birds, and bats. With an accessible writing style grounded in rigorous research, Alexander breaks new ground in a field that has previously been confined to specialists. While birds have received the majority of attention from flight researchers, Alexander pays equal attention to all four groups of flyers-something that no other book on the subject has done before now. In a streamlined and captivating way, David Alexander demonstrates the links between the tiny 2-mm thrip and the enormous albatross with the 12 feet wingspan used to cross oceans.

The book delves into the fossil record of flyers enough to satisfy the budding paleontologist, while also pleasing ornithologists and entomologists alike with its treatment of animal behavior, flapping mechanisms, and wing-origin theory. Alexander uses relatable examples to draw in readers even without a natural interest in birds, bees, and bats. He takes something that is so off-limits and unfamiliar to humans-the act of flying-and puts it in the context of experiences that many readers can relate to. Alexander guides readers through the anomalies of the flying world: hovering hummingbirds, unexpected gliders (squirrels, for instance), and the flyers that went extinct (pterosaurs). Alexander also delves into wing-origin theory and explores whether birds entered the skies from the trees down (as gliders) or from the ground up (as runners) and uses the latest fossil evidence to present readers with an answer.
"

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This is a clearly written, well researched and well illustrated book exploring the evolution of flight in insects, birds, bats and pterosaurs.

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review 2018-09-10 08:15
Lamarck's Revenge by Peter Ward
Lamarck's Revenge: How Epigenetics Is Revolutionizing Our Understanding of Evolution's Past and Present - Peter Ward

TITLE:  Lamarck's Revenge:  How Epigenetics Is Revolutionizing Our Understanding of Evolution's Past and Present

AUTHOR:  Peter Ward

DATE PUBLISHED:  2018

FORMAT:  Hardcover

ISBN13: 9781632866158

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DESCRIPTION:
 
"Epigenetics upends natural selection and genetic mutation as the sole engines of evolution, and offers startling insights into our future heritable traits.

In the 1700s, Jean-Baptiste Lamarck first described epigenetics to explain the inheritance of acquired characteristics; however, his theory was supplanted in the 1800s by Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection through heritable genetic mutations. But natural selection could not adequately explain how rapidly species re-diversified and repopulated after mass extinctions. Now advances in the study of DNA and RNA have resurrected epigenetics, which can create radical physical and physiological changes in subsequent generations by the simple addition of a single small molecule, thus passing along a propensity for molecules to attach in the same places in the next generation.

Epigenetics is a complex process, but paleontologist and astrobiologist Peter Ward breaks it down for general readers, using the epigenetic paradigm to reexamine how the history of our species—from deep time to the outbreak of the Black Plague and into the present—has left its mark on our physiology, behavior, and intelligence. Most alarming are chapters about epigenetic changes we are undergoing now triggered by toxins, environmental pollutants, famine, poor nutrition, and overexposure to violence.

Lamarck’s Revenge is an eye-opening and provocative exploration of how traits are inherited, and how outside influences drive what we pass along to our progeny.
"
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I have mixed feelings about this book.  On the one hand, it has interesting information about the role of epigenetics in evolution.  Nessa Carey beautifully described the biological functioning of epigenetics in her book The Epigenetic Revolution, but didn't focus on how this effects the evolution of species in any great detail.  This book deals with epigenetics and how this effects the genetics and evolution of species, as well as the Theory of Evolution.  This book starts off with a history of science focused on Lamarck and Darwin, then a superficial explanation of what epigenetics is and how it works, followed by the effects of epigenetics on evolution, then the history of life (especially focusing on the sudden expansion of life and body forms after the great mass extinctions), then human history from the Ice Age to present times and our possible future (with far too much speculation). 
 
One of the major problems with this book are the exceptionally lengthy run-on sentences, made longer by the really long clauses in parenthesis stuffed within the very long sentences, especially in the first half of the book (the author settles down a bit in the second half of the book).  There is also a great deal of repetition with the information, not to mention all the personal opinions and biases  (repeated constantly) by the author, all the tangential "stuff" (repeated constantly) about climate warming, pollution, evil parents, great extinction events and their causes, condemnation of other scientists (especially Darwin) because they didn't automatically worship Lamarck (whose ideas are simplified and used as a vehicle in this book), random insertions of irrelevant material, not to mention the political asides.  The organisation of the book could also use some assistance and the author jumps all over the place (especially in the first half of the book), and sub-sections just end in the middle of developing an idea (apparently editors are an extinct species). The explanations dealing with epigenetics in general (in the first third of the book) are not particularly clear or coherent, and the run-on, multi-parenthesized (is this even a word?) sentences do not help in understanding this relatively new concept.
 
If you want to know about epigenetics, read The Epigenetics Revolution by Nessa Carey.  If you want a book about epigenetics and evolution, wait for someone else to write a more coherent text (maybe one day Nick Lane can cover this topic - with diagrams where necessary).  If you really need to read this book, borrow it first.
 
 
Note:  If you found this review long winded, convoluted, with too many parenthesized run-on sentences... well, that's what the book is like.
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review 2018-07-26 06:55
The Fall of the Wild by Ben A. Minteer
The Fall of the Wild: Extinction, De-Extinction, and the Ethics of Conservation - Ben A. Minteer

TITLE:  The Fall of the Wild:  Extinction, De-extinction, & the Ethics of Conservation

 

AUTHOR:  Ben A. Minteer

 

EXPECTED PUBLICATION DATE:       

4 December 2018

 

FORMAT: ARC ebook

 

ISBN-13:  9780231177788

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NOTE: I received an Advanced Readers Copy of this book from NetGalley. This review is my honest opinion of the book.

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Book Description:

"The passenger pigeon, the great auk, the Tasmanian tiger—the memory of these vanished species haunts the fight against extinction. Seeking to save other creatures from their fate in an age of accelerating biodiversity loss, wildlife advocates have become captivated by a narrative of heroic conservation efforts. A range of technological and policy strategies, from the traditional, such as regulations and refuges, to the novel—the scientific wizardry of genetic engineering and synthetic biology—seemingly promise solutions to the extinction crisis.

In The Fall of the Wild, Ben A. Minteer calls for reflection on the ethical dilemmas of species loss and recovery in an increasingly human-driven world. He asks an unsettling but necessary question: Might our well-meaning efforts to save and restore wildlife pose a threat to the ideal of preserving a world that isn’t completely under the human thumb? Minteer probes the tension between our impulse to do whatever it takes and the risk of pursuing strategies that undermine our broader commitment to the preservation of wildness. From collecting wildlife specimens for museums and the wilderness aspirations of zoos to visions of “assisted colonization” of new habitats and high-tech attempts to revive long-extinct species, he explores the scientific and ethical concerns vexing conservation today. The Fall of the Wild is a nuanced treatment of the deeper moral issues underpinning the quest to save species on the brink of extinction and an accessible intervention in debates over the principles and practice of nature conservation."

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This book focuses on the ethics, pros and cons, of a variety of conservation methods.  Ben Minteer makes use of several popular examples to make his point.  Examples and topics that make an appearance in this book include the Passenger Pigeon, Great Auk, Thylacine, Elephants, American Bison, Condors, specimen collecting of marginal species, captive breeding programmes, the future appearance of zoos (think Jurassic Park without the dinosaurs), species translocation, assisted colonization of endeangered species outside their usual range, resurrection science, and the limits of technological "fixes" to problems.

What the author has tried to promote in this book is an alternative environmental ethic, what he calls "pragmatic preservationism".  This concept captures two core ideas regarding conservation"  (1) the growing need to intervene more aggressively to save species in a rapidly changing environment; and (2) an acknowledgement of our resonsibility to preseve a convincing sense of the wild and a respect for nature as we implement (or not) these interventions.  

While this isn't a particularly original or detailed examination of the topic, it does make for an interesting, well-written, thought-provoking, enjoyable and short introduction to conservation ethics, with no irrelevant biographical side tangents.

 

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review 2018-07-19 07:41
Never Home Alone by Rob Dunn
Never Home Alone: From Microbes to Millipedes, Camel Crickets, and Honeybees, the Natural History of Where We Live - Rob Dunn

TITLE:  Never Home Alone:  From Microbes to Millipedes, Camel Crickets, and Honeybees, the Natural History of Where We Live

 

AUTHOR: Rob Dunn

 

EXPECTED PUBLICATION DATE:       

6 November 2018

 

FORMAT: ARC ebook

 

ISBN-13: 9781541645769

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NOTE: I received an Advanced Readers Copy of this book from NetGalley. This review is my honest opinion of the book.

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Book Description:

"A natural history of the wilderness in our homes, from the microbes in our showers to the crickets in our basements

Even when the floors are sparkling clean and the house seems silent, our domestic domain is wild beyond imagination. In Never Home Alone, biologist Rob Dunn introduces us to the nearly 200,000 species living with us in our own homes, from the Egyptian meal moths in our cupboards and camel crickets in our basements to the lactobacillus lounging on our kitchen counters. You are not alone. Yet, as we obsess over sterilizing our homes and separating our spaces from nature, we are unwittingly cultivating an entirely new playground for evolution. These changes are reshaping the organisms that live with us--prompting some to become more dangerous, while undermining those species that benefit our bodies or help us keep more threatening organisms at bay. No one who reads this engrossing, revelatory book will look at their homes in the same way again."

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Never Home Alone explores the variety of life that shares our living spaces with us, from microbes and fungi, to insects and other arthropods; as well as the ways in which those lifeforms are evolving.  This is a well written, popular science book that shows us that the ecosystems in our homes are more diverse than we may suspect, and that most of our co-inhabitants are beneficial or benign as opposed to harmful.  The author’s enthusiasm for this subject is evident as he tells readers about various interesting studies about the creatures living with us.   

 

The author discusses such things as swabbing the International Space station (ISS) for bacteria and fungi; chronic autoimmune diseases associated with lack of microbes; microbes living in water heaters, showerheads, tap water, dry-walling; technophilic fungi that eat metal and plastics; the “uses” that our co-inhabitants may provide in terms of health and industrial applications; the evolution of pesticide resistance and the use of social spiders as non-toxic fly catchers; pets and the additional creatures they bring indoors; fermented food and bread making (Herman the yeast starter makes an appearance here); and the inoculation of beneficial microbes to prevent colonization by harmful microbes. 

 

I found the sections that deal with microbes and fungi on the Space Stations (ISS and Mir) to be especially interesting.  Dunn points out that these fungi are more successful in establishing themselves in space in terms of procreation and living out many generations, that humans have been. 

 

I really would have loved more scientific details, but that’s just my preference.  I found this book to be interesting and informative, with a chatty and informal writing style. Human houses provide living spaces and ecosystems for a myriad of organisms. After reading this book, you will never look at your home in the same way again.

 

 

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