Natural History

A magazine of scientific research and education in nature and culture. Features articles, book reviews, and general information about the natural world and its inhabitants.

Articles from Vol. 107, No. 4, May

A Conversation with George C. Williams
"I am convinced that it is the light and the way" These are the final words in Adaptation and Natural Selection, George C. Williams's 1966 book about evolution. In the decades since the publication of this book, which became one of the most influential...
A Season in the South
Guillermo, Felipe, and I agree; the western sandpiper at the far end of the mudflat is an old friend. We had captured, color-banded, and released him when he arrived in Punta Banda (on the Pacific coast of Baja California, Mexico) in late October three...
Bookshelf
At the Water's Edge By Carl Zimmer (The Free Press [Simon & Schuster], 1998, $25, illus.) Zimmer, a senior editor and writer at Discover magazine, gives a lucid exegesis of macroevolution-major, long-term changes in animal anatomy and behavior. He...
Directory of Hard Rock Habitats
In a land scorched by sun and wind, exposed rock would seem an unlikely refugium for life of any kind. Yet even in the most hostile of climates, a single rock can provide a variety of living situations for microbiota adapted to life at the extremes....
Guatemala's New Evangelists
Wandering along the shore of volcanic Lake Atitlan, in the Guatemalan highlands, I come across two women kneeling in the sand with their backs to the lake, quietly praying in the shelter of some low cliffs. Copal, an incense of pine resin, burns in front...
Island Dreams
Conservation is supposed to be about conservation, right? Say you want to save the last untrammeled ecosystem on the island of Saint Croix, in the U.S. Virgin Islands. You've got an upland wilderness. You've got the island's last two really isolated...
Kansas Travelers
Imagine you're a semipalmated sandpiper migrating north from your wintering grounds in South America. You're well on your way, headed up the middle of the North American continent. Reaching Kansas, you fly over miles and miles of green winter wheat,...
Life and Death Fallacies
From The Pony Fish's Glow and Other Clues to Plan and Purpose in Nature, by George C. Williams. Copyright 1997 by George C. Williams. Reprinted by arrangement with BasicBooks. Many traditional religions foster attitudes that ought to have disappeared...
Northwest Passages
Bordering Prince William Sound, the eighty-mile-wide Copper River Delta in south-central Alaska hosts millions of shorebirds on the final leg of their spring migration. This site and other shorebird magnets-such as San Francisco Bay, Grays Harbor in...
Shorebird Odysseys
One natural phenomenon that has it all is the migration of animals-from turtles and cetaceans that traverse the oceans to the salmon and shad that return to their natal streams; from the herds of caribou that track the tundra to the birds of prey and...
Shorebird Odysseys
Red knot number 0802-45388 had just left her wintering grounds in Tierra del Fuego at the southern tip of South America and was heading north to nest in the Canadian Arctic. Caught in the delicate mesh of a mist net in Argentina, she was gently removed;...
Showdown at Delaware Bay
For Joan Walsh, a biologist at the New Jersey Audubon Society's Cape May Bird Observatory, spring of 1997 was ominously quiet. By mid-May, the shores of Delaware Bay that Walsh frequently visits are usually packed, not with beachgoers but with throngs...
Stellar Body Double
The Big Dipper is high in the northern sky this month as darkness falls, providing a good opportunity to view the secondmagnitude star Mizar. Look for Mizar in the middle of the dipper's handle, where the handle bends. Using a telescope, you should be...
The Sharp-Eyed Lynx, Outfoxed by Nature
Galileo and friends taught us that there is more to observing than meets the eye. In 1603, Federico Cesi, the duke of Aquasparta, founded an organization that grew from uncertain beginnings to become the first scientific society in modern European history....
This land/Oklahoma: Border Lands
The pointy southeastern corner of Oklahoma, a triangle of land squeezed between Arkansas and Texas, is bounded on the south by the meandering Red River, on the east by a surveyor's straight border, and on the north by the Little River (a tributary of...
To the Editor
Hot Tuna My conceptual world has suffered a severe tremor with the arrival of your March 1998 issue and "Net Loss," Elliot Norse's review of Carl Safina's Song for the Blue Ocean. The third paragraph informs me that the bluefin tuna is a warm-blooded...
Twenty-Five Years and Counting
Every ten days during April and May, whatever the weather, John and Florence head for their local marsh near Virginia Beach with binoculars and spotting scopes to watch birds. They are particularly careful to identify the many shorebirds coming through...
Water, Water
Did cometary impacts deliver Earth's entire oceanic supply? From the looks of the many dry and unfriendly-seeming spots in our solar system, you might think that water, while plentiful on Earth, is a rare commodity in the galaxy. But of all molecules...
Web Flights
Whether you are a serious birder hoping to add a rare species to your life list or a casual nature-watcher interested in observing the annual ebb and flow of avian activity, the Internet is a good place for finding out which birds are moving through...
Windows on the Desert Floor
When scientists at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) began thinking seriously about the possibility of life elsewhere in the universe, they looked to Earth's own desert soils for some idea of what might exist on less hospitable...