good layman ecology books?

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good layman ecology books?

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1GoofyOcean110
Abr 20, 2009, 3:06pm

Whats are some of the best layman ecology books that you've read. Within recent memory, The Beak of the Finch stands out in my mind as excellent science writing about evolution and the scientists who study it.

What are your favorites?

2chrisharpe
Abr 21, 2009, 1:29pm

It's getting very long in the tooth now, but I really enjoyed Paul Colinvaux's Why Big Fierce Animals are Rare, probably not long after it first came out. It explains some major ecological tenets (at least they were at the time!) in layman's terms.

For the American tropics, Tropical Nature, A Neotropical Companion and Birds of Tropical America take some beating. I think Kricher has written on boreal forests too.

I would be interested to know if there is a modern general layman's guide to ecology. Can anyone suggest one?

3WildMaggie
Abr 22, 2009, 8:55am

Paul Colinvaux also wrote my grad school Ecology text, still here on my shelf. It's probably not so up-to-date either, as I graduated a good while ago. Since you liked it, I've just mooched a copy of Why Big Fierce Animals are Rare from BookMooch. I'll see what I think if/when it comes and when I can get it read.

Ecology needs good writers for the lay audience. Malcolm Gladwell has done a couple of great lay books on social science topics. He's originally a journalist, I think. Some other subject areas have benefited from non-specialists, often writers with journalism backgrounds, presenting their basic tenets in concise, readily comprehensible form. I may have seen some essays like this on ecology but can't say I've read an entire book like this.

4Singlegayenviro
Abr 24, 2009, 10:06am

I guess I would go with Jon Luoma's book on northwest rainforest ecosystem research--he hung out in the field with researchers.

As for earlier classics, it's hard to go wrong with some Aldo Leopold.

You're on the mark with Beak of the Finch, of course, and don't miss "Time, Love, Memory", although that's about the complex matrices of gene-behavior interaction, not ecology.

5geoffreymeadows
Mayo 1, 2009, 2:26am

Depending on how narrowly you want to focus on ecology, several authors come to mind (kind of obvious)
- Edward O. Wilson who writes issues-related stuff, plus some good ecology studies on ants which is on my to-read list - he's just come out with a new title called Superorganism on insect societies
- David Quammen, who wrote The Song of the Dodo, which is probably my all-time favorite book, it goes into the history of science, Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace, and into extinctions quite a bit (the author didn't think the Galapagos finches was the all-encompassing event we seem to think it was for Darwin)
- Stephen Jay Gould's essays are very good too, I read them in Natural History magazines as they were written, but they are all collected in books, there's a lot of history of science there too
- Arctic Dreams, by Barry Lopez is teetering on the realm of forgetfulness now, I read it in '89 (a National Book Award winner)
- some good old classics include Henry Beston's The Outermost House, on Cape Cod, and Mary Austin's Land of Little Rain, on deserts
- John Muir's books also have a lot of nature in them, I thought The Mountains of California was great! (A trip to California didn't hurt either.)

It might be a good idea to read stuff on the ecology of your own region, if you can, stuff you can go out and see for yourself. Your local nature center might have some.

And you can't go wrong with Darwin. If you've read The Beak of the Finch, then you have to read Voyage of the Beagle. It's the least technical Darwin's stuff.

6setnahkt
Editado: Mayo 1, 2009, 11:53am

I've been reading books on Pleistocene ecology that give some perspective on the issue of climate change:

After the Ice Age by E. C. Pielou (An excellent book on the deglaciation of North America, synthesizing information from paleontology, paleoclimatology, and paleoecology. Pielou has written a lot of ecological works but this is the only one I've read).

Blue Babe: Frozen Fauna of the Mammoth Steppe by Dale Guthrie (goes well with Pielou above; more focused on animals.)

After the Ice by Steven Mithen (Mithen is more interested in archaeology than ecology, but there's some pretty interesting discussion of environmental change in the last 20000 years or so. Mithen's narrative device is unfortunate, but you get used to it)

The Ice-Age History of Alaskan National Parks, The Ice-Age History of National Parks in the Rocky Mountains and The Ice-Age History of Southwestern National Parks all by Scott Elias (Elias is a paleoentomologist and gives some insight into the concept of "novel ecosystems")

Environment and Archaeology: An Introduction to Pleistocene Geography, by Karl Butzer. (A classic work, perhaps a little out of date but still very worth reading. Focuses mostly on the Near East - Egypt and Mesopotamia - rather than North America).

On a different note, for a counter-Darwinian view, try Darwinian Fairytales by David Stowe. (Stowe manages to thoroughly misunderstand both evolutionary theory and the scientific method, and smugly expects to be taken seriously because He Is A Philosopher with a Capital P. Reading this book and cataloging Stowe's mistakes is a good way to test your own understanding of organic evolution and natural selection, although it's sometimes difficult to avoid throwing the book against the wall when Stowe makes yet another egriegious error. Get the paperback version so you don't damage the furniture.)

7GoofyOcean110
Editado: Mayo 2, 2009, 8:15am

these are all great suggestions! keep 'em coming! i had noted song of the dodo a while ago, and have it on my TBB (to be bought) list and on my BookMooch wishlist. I also am looking for Dinosaur in a Haystack and The weather makers.

8GoofyOcean110
Mayo 22, 2009, 9:32pm

Just took out Hen's teeth and horse's toes from the library, which was apparently written in celebration of one of the various centennial anniversaries related to Darwin. Any other goodies anyone has read recently?

9geoffreymeadows
Mayo 24, 2009, 10:11pm

Of the Stephen Jay Gould stuff I liked Bully for Brontosaurus, although I read the essays as they came out, not in book form. It has, "An Essay on a Pig Roast," which influenced me at the time. Don't even know what year that was.

Just started, The Amber Forest, by Poinar and Poinar. It has some scientific vocabulary words, but it's really written for the novice. In a way, it's a survey of insects and other small-scale organisms.

10Dragonfly
Mayo 25, 2009, 10:08pm

I just finished Stalking the Plumed Serpent by Bruce Means, a man who unabashedly confesses his love for "creepy crawlies". Pick any little species -- a salamander -- and he shows you how it is connected to all the things around it. I was lucky enough to go on a field trip that he was leading once . While his knowledge is impressive, the level of his caring about our fellow creatures is even more impressive.

11augustau
Mayo 26, 2009, 6:22pm

I really enjoyed Evolution's Workshop:God and Science on the Galapagos Islands by Edward P. Larson. He writes so fluidly and presents the history of science as a real pageturner. It puts the study of Ecology on a timeline and it is very young science. I am looking forward to reading his Scopes Trial book.

12WildMaggie
Abr 12, 2011, 11:25pm

Well, took me a year but I finally read Why Big Fierce Animals are Rare. I agree, chrissharp, that it has great explanations of basic tenets in the first few chapters. Really well written and concise. The rest of the book does show its age. Still looking for a more up-to-date ecology book for lay readers.

13WildMaggie
Abr 12, 2011, 11:25pm

Well, took me a year but I finally read Why Big Fierce Animals are Rare. I agree, chrissharp, that it has great explanations of basic tenets in the first few chapters. Really well written and concise. The rest of the book does show its age. Still looking for a more up-to-date ecology book for lay readers.

14chrisharpe
Abr 13, 2011, 12:35pm

OK WildMaggie, I'd love to hear of any newer books... Many thanks!

15wingbeat
Abr 22, 2011, 4:07am

I want to single out, second, and bump up an earlier recommendation for Song of the Dodo, having just finished reading it.

This is an incredible book on key concepts of ecology and evolution, the best I've read to date. Rest assured it is no textbook, but far exceeds any in how much readers actually enjoy and retain. David Quammen tells the story of how the major themes and ideas in ecology, evolution and conservation emerged and being played out through the eyes and ideas and actions of the remarkable characters involve - in such a comprehensive yet entertaining fashion as to come close to being a compendium of documentary-style adventure novels. The educational value is such that I sometimes joke I could have skipped almost all first and second (and some third) year university courses on these topics and still come out understanding more about the fundamental principles (and how they came about) than most BSc(Biology) students actually remember past their examinations, let alone their degrees.

Random section, because I had the fun idea that if I flip to a random page and choose a random section it would probably not be too shabby a sample of some of the narrative tones David uses:

"...the snake will have plenty of food so long as its alternative prey species - the rats, the skinks, the anoles, the geckos - don't follow the Guam flycatcher to extinction. But none of this is certain. It's not science, it's just plausibly sciencey talk. The natural history of B. irregularis and its population dynamics on Guam, not to mention the long term implications for the ecosystem, are still largely unknown. What's certain is that there are thousands and thousands of snakes on the island, maybe millions and millions, and that Gordon Rodda needs to get his hands on as many as possible.

"There's one!"
He brakes. He leaps out. He pulls on the gardening gloves and runs toward the fence..."

16WildMaggie
Abr 22, 2011, 12:43pm

15> I'm putting Dodo on my wishlist.

17Sandydog1
Mayo 2, 2011, 4:43pm

I cannot, cannot, cannot recommend The Hidden Forest: The Biography of an Ecosystem and The View from Lazy Point, enough. Both are encyclopedic and extremely well-written.

The Beak of the Finch remains a favorite of mine. Imagine, evolution occurring within a generation or two. Simply amazing.

18Sandydog1
Mayo 2, 2011, 4:43pm

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