Mar 25, 2019

Resurrection Science

Conservation, De-Exctinction and the Precarious Future of Wild Things
by M.R. O'Connor

When I first picked up this book browsing at the library, I assumed by its title the subject matter was extinct animals scientists hope to one day revive: I've read before about ideas on resurrecting the woolly mammoth, for example. This book is much broader in scope and full of detail I didn't expect. It's about how complicated issues have grown around saving wildlife as human populations eat up space and climate change affects everything. It's about the real difficulties surrounding attempts to define what value a species has, what measure should be taken to save them, how well it works, etc.

Each chapter has a different focus: spray toads in an isolated waterfall gorge that were threatened by a dam to provide electricity for impoverished Tanzanians. Florida panthers reduced to such a small population they have become inbred. White Sands Pupfish that exist in tiny pools on a missile range. The giant enigma of northern right whales- nobody knows where they spend half their lives, the puzzle of why their reproduction rate is so low. The Hawaiian crow is extinct in the wild- attempts are now being made to release captive-bred birds back into their native forests. Passenger pigeons- why did they really disappear? is it possible to bring them back? would people want to (they were a terrible scourge for colonial farmers). Last of all - Neanderthals. Who according to this book, weren't the unintelligent 'caveman' brutes popular culture likes to portray- but highly intelligent in their own right, well-adapted to their environment.

All of these were full of information totally new to me. I had never heard of spray toads before. I didn't realize that Florida panthers used to interbreed with Texas cougars (a long time ago)- so scientists attempted bring in some Texan cougars to diversify the gene pool. But when the panthers started breeding, there was no space for the population to expand. Nowhere for them to live. Honestly, it was so dismaying I didn't read the book for a few days- then got online and looked stuff up. Some failed developments have been turned back into wild land for the panthers. The spray toad still lives- supported by artificial misting systems. I have to remind myself this book is a few years old! But some things in it are still hard to understand. The vast storage systems of frozen animal tissue samples- in case they can one day be re-generated. The methods gone beyond stem cells. The genome sequencing. Insights this gives us into things like when did the right whale population become so small (it was before humans hunted them apparently) and how closely related are passenger pigeons to band-tailed pigeons. I didn't know there were so many people passionate about bringing passenger pigeons back. I was even more surprised to read that some scientists think to bring back to life the Neanderthal- wow that is full of some strong implications. The end of the book got a bit philosophical and it was difficult to keep focus on the last few pages. Overall it was full of way more complex issues than I can describe, lots to think about.

Oh, there's also a chapter about the Northern white rhino. It was the same story as in The Last Rhinos but with slightly different details which made that a very interesting read.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 4/5              266 pages, 2015

Mar 15, 2019

Bringing Nature Home

How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants
by Douglas W. Tallamy

This one was great. Just what I needed. Stuffed full of information and beautifully clear photographs. It's not necessarily about how to select plants, but instead focused on why homeowners need to reintroduce native plants to their land, and weed out aliens as much as possible. I've never been a purist in my gardening. I've always though ok: natives are good, feed the birds, but I like some striking, pretty plants that don't get eaten by the deer too. Although I haven't got very far in filling my yard with the perennials and shrubs I had my eye on yet, and a good thing I guess. This book has convinced me I'd do better with buttonbush than butterfly bush, and to really value the maples, oaks and crabapple in my yard- in spite of the mess they make with dropped seeds and small hard fruit.

His main point is that in order to support the wildlife we like seeing- the mammals- squirrels, rabbits, deer, foxes - and particularly the birds- we need to have plants that support the bugs. Because all the small creepy crawly things eat the plants and turn the value of the sun's energy trapped in plants into a major food source (their own bodies) for the birds. Most birds feed their young on insects, period. And he points out that the damage insects do to plants is usually minor enough that most gardeners don't notice it, if you have a good balance so there are enough predators attracted (birds, spiders, assassin bugs etc) to eat them! And he shows the scientific data that no matter how long an alien species of plant has been on our continent, the insect life here is not adapted to feed off it, and will take such a long time to do so it's pointless to consider. I didn't realize.

So a major part of the book is a gallery of photos showing all the little critters you might not notice in the yard, making a note of why they are important to the bird life (and other things), and what plants support them. There's also a section on trees, which native trees are the most valuable in terms of supporting wildlife- some feed literally hundreds of different species. I really like reading through the pages on insects. I learned some astonishing things, and found info on bugs I've seen in my own yard, but knew nothing about before. Did you know there are female insects that care for their young? some will guard the eggs from predators, others guard the nymphs, and one will lay its eggs near another female's clutch, then leave so the first female cares for them all! Did you know the female white tussock moth has no wings? I've seen their caterpillars a few times, had no idea. Did you know that monarch caterpillars can feed on more than just milkweed? any plant in the same family will do- and there's quite a few of them. So, so much more.

I paid to read this one, that's how much it galvanized me. I kept it beyond the due date (when someone else obviously wanted it- I couldn't renew) so I could finish reading, take notes, and find a copy machine for those lists of plants in my region that have the highest wildlife value (supporting the greatest number of insect and thus bird life). I really want to find a copy to add to my personal collection, so I can reference it often. I'm not going to stop trying to keep the bugs from ruining my vegetable garden, but if I plant more perennials and flowers around the yard they can eat, maybe they won't be so attracted to my little patch of edibles. And this book shows me how.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 5/5                  358 pages, 2007

No Way Home

the Decline of the World's Great Animal Migrations
by David S. Wilcove

I didn't finish this one. I read fifty pages. No fault of the book- I'm just very busy with starting the garden, dealing with things in my aquariums, the kids' school activities and so on. Reading has to fit into the margins right now, and this one just didn't have me eagerly turning pages every few minutes I could sit idle here and there. I'm returning it and hope to pick it up again at a later date.

It's about how animal migrations have been disrupted by human activity and habitat loss. Each chapter looks at a specific type of wildlife- the one I read was on birds (songbirds in particular) and it was very detailed, but I found the writing a bit dry so it was hard for me to stick with it. Later chapters - I gathered by skimming- are about monarch butterflies, wildebeest and other herbivores in Africa, bison and pronghorn in the American West, whales and sea turtles, salmon and other fish that travel up freshwater streams to spawn. Most cases are about how animals need to travel to follow food sources, or reach places where they can safely raise their young, how scientists have tracked them and learned about all this. The data about how travel routes have been disrupted and thus animal populations fallen, are kind of staggering if you haven't read about it before. There's some suggestions for how we can reverse the damage and support the animals' needs, but overall it sounded kind of glum. But then, I didn't read the whole thing so can't say.

I hope to revisit this one soon.
Borrowed from the public library.

Abandoned               245 pages, 2008

Mar 6, 2019

The Departure

Animorphs #19
by K.A. Applegate

I was looking forward to reading this book, because I had hints from some others' reviews of what was coming. It was both more and - different- from what I expected. I really like the cover image. Someone (on Goodreads or Amzn) made it sound like Cassie just quits, and flits off into the landscape as a butterfly to escape everything. Not at all what happens. Warning for spoilers if you haven't read this far in the series.

Cassie's bad feeling for what the Animorphs do in the war against the Yeerks has been building, and in the dinosaur episode it just goes too far. Fed up with the violence and killing, Cassie declares to her friends that she's quitting the Animorphs. They're shocked, angered, disgusted by turns. Make her promise she can't use her morphing powers if she isn't in the fight, because it could endanger them all. She goes home, learns some bad news from her family, goes out on a horse ride for some mental space and there's a little girl being chased by a bear in the woods. Cassie runs after them on horseback to save the girl, they end up falling in the river and when Cassie revives, she finds that the little girl saved her. They're lost in the forest and (conveniently for the plot) there's a leopard on the loose- escaped from a private collector somewhere nearby. Cassie finds out pretty quickly that the little girl is controlled by a Yeerk, who suspects she is an Andalite and tries to force her to tell. Cassie stubbornly refuses to admit her true identity, until the leopard attacks. She tries to save the girl without revealing herself, but ends up morphing the wolf to threaten off the leopard, and the game's up.

So Cassie and this Yeerk end up having an in-depth argument in the woods: whose side is right? the Yeerks, it turns out, are not all in agreement with what the Vissers order. Some of them don't want to be in the war at all. All of them want to have the blessing of using limbs, having eyes to see, ears to hear. The little girl Controller lets Cassie know she thinks humans (and Andalites) are domineering, holier-than-thou busybodies trying to make everyone in the universe follow their rules- when all the Yeerks want is to use all five senses, not spend their lives swimming around as "slugs" in a murky pool. Hm. Really puts it all in a new perspective. And Cassie gets it. She and this Yeerk make a deal- if the Yeerk leaves the little girl host and goes back to existing in its natural form in the pool, she will make a similar sacrifice by morphing into a dull, wormlike Earth animal and staying there.

Of course, Cassie doesn't get stuck forever in the caterpillar morph, but I sure wondered how the author was going to pull her out of that situation. It never occurred to me that natural metamorphosis would yes be comparable to the Andalite morphing technology- tadpoles into frogs, caterpillars into butterflies. It seemed very clever to me that this would be used as a device in the story- although the explanation for how it works is lacking.

Anyhow, this of all the books so far really brings up a ton of gray areas- is the enemy really as evil as they've always seemed? is Cassie being foolish or a decent human being, by refusing to fight and kill anymore. What has the war done to these kids, that their reactions to Cassie's defection include declaring an end to friendship, and turning against her if it looks like she will betray them to the enemy- no matter for what reason.

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Rating: 4/5          pages,

Mar 3, 2019

In the Time of Dinosaurs

Megamorphs #2
by K.A. Applegate

This one was alright, although some things didn't make sense, I tried not to let it bug me. Note there are possible spoilers if you haven't read the series yet.

The Animorphs find out there's a nuclear disaster at sea- so what do they do? dash over there in dolphin form to see what's going on and help out rescuing people. Well, the blast throws the Animorphs back in time, to the Cretaceous age of course. It takes them a while to realize they're not in a strange place, just in an ancient time. It's extremely dangerous. They nearly get eaten by dinosaurs- several times- and there's a scene where Rachel morphs the grizzly bear while inside a dinosaur's stomach - to claw her way out- yeah, ugh. Glad for the paucity of description there. Eventually they manage to obtain morphs of dinosaurs so they aren't outmatched all the time, and then make a sudden discovery. It involves two alien races that inhabit Earth, eons in the past. The two alien civilizations are in a kind of stalemate, but the Animorphs get involved, hoping to use the energy of a bomb to blast themselves back into the future they came from- meanwhile a huge comet is looming ominously close in the sky . . . . They had to make some awful decisions about choosing if the alien race would live or die- after the aliens had helped them- to save themselves. Cassie protested having to morph a carnivorous dinosaur, and then went berserk when the instincts overtook her. Tobias makes a decision for the group without telling them- nearly on par with betrayal. Lots of drama setup for future events I think. But in terms of how they got back home, well I saw the ending coming a mile away. Biggest disappointment was when they got back to their own time, and found out the dinosaur morphs no longer worked. Why? what's the point of having the characters travel back in time where they can gain these incredibly powerful forms, if they can't use them? and why is it possible that their enemy Visser Three can use morphs of alien creatures from planets they've never heard of, but they can't use a morph from an extinct animal of their own planet? it made no sense, but a lot of this series doesn't. In spite of all this (and the constant POV switch every chapter) I did find it an entertaining read.

Read as an e-book on my device.

Rating: 3/5              245 pages, 1998

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