Magazine article New Internationalist

[The Song of the Dodo: Island Biogeography in an Age of Extinctions]

Magazine article New Internationalist

[The Song of the Dodo: Island Biogeography in an Age of Extinctions]

Article excerpt

Here's a conundrum. You're a busy person, your time is limited. Why on earth should you read a 700-page tome on the obscure and complex science of island bio-geography which has at its heart a discussion of species-area relationships and boils down to the equation S=[Symbol Not Transcribed]CAZ? Well, look at it another way. As an NI reader, you are naturally concerned about the destruction of the rainforests and the remorseless advance of extinctions. Perhaps, like me, you are bewildered by the conservation jargon - 'ecosystem decay', 'faunal collapse' or the dreadful euphemism, 'relaxation to equilibrium' - and are disheartened by the grim statistics of disappearance. Read David Quammen's The Song of the Dodo and you will find bewil-derment and resignation are replaced by understanding, astonishment and even a tentative but informed hope for our ravaged planet. If that sounds like the usual heavy trudge towards necessary knowledge, be assured that there is frivolity and jocund digression aplenty. Pygmy elephants, giant tortoises and the activities of the truly gross Komodo Dragon pepper the narrative. Quammen tells no lies when he announces on the opening page, 'Island bio-geography, I'm happy to report, is full of cheap thrills.'

Clearly and patiently, Quammen assembles the pieces that fit together to make sense of island ecologies. He delves entertainingly into the enmeshed histories of Darwin and the intrepid and underrated Alfred Russell Wallace. Quammen does the fieldwork - he's chased by Komodo Dragons, sizzles on Baja California and is mugged in Rio-and he brings the story up to date with the groundbreaking work of Edward O Wilson and Robert MacArthur. …

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