Green Equilibrium: The vital balance of humans and nature

Overview


In Green Equilibrium, award-winning field biologist Christopher Wills explains the rules by which ecosystems thrive, shining light on a set of ecological balancing acts that he calls "green equilibria," rules which keep our world vibrant, verdant, and ecologically intact.

To explain the idea of "green equilibrium," Wills draws on a fascinating range of examples, including coral reefs off the densely populated Philippines, the isolated and thickly forested valleys of Papua New ...

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Green Equilibrium: The vital balance of humans and nature

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Overview


In Green Equilibrium, award-winning field biologist Christopher Wills explains the rules by which ecosystems thrive, shining light on a set of ecological balancing acts that he calls "green equilibria," rules which keep our world vibrant, verdant, and ecologically intact.

To explain the idea of "green equilibrium," Wills draws on a fascinating range of examples, including coral reefs off the densely populated Philippines, the isolated and thickly forested valleys of Papua New Guinea, the changing Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, and a Californian ranch being allowed to return to a wild state. Wills travels to Guyana's rainforests and savannahs, for instance, to provide startling vignettes of ecological processes in action. Among other topics, he highlights the astonishing snake-head mimicry that swallowtail caterpillars use to scare off predators, the symbiotic relationship between the exceedingly rare Golden Poison-Dart Frog and the tank bromeliad plant, and the invisible world of pathogens and parasites that helps to drive diversity. All these mechanisms, and many more, maintain the "green equilibria" of Guyana's rainforest ecosystems. Wills also shows how "green equilibria" have shaped the evolution and history of our own species. We now know that a kind of genetic "green equilibrium" helped populations adapt to changing environmental conditions as they spread out of Africa. Striking new evidence indicates that some modern human populations still carry genes from past hominids (such as the Neanderthals) as well as genetic adaptations to local hazards such as malaria.

Traveling to many different ecosystems, from coral reefs to the high Himalayas, and drawing on his own on-the-ground research, Wills illuminates ecological laws in action. Perhaps most important, he introduces us to people, in many countries around the world, who are now using this new knowledge to help heal the planet.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Biologist Wills (The Darwinian Tourist) examines the state of balance that keeps life on Earth "vibrant, verdant, and ecologically intact," by taking readers on a virtual world tour while discussing examples of equilibrium and disequilibrium that he has personally observed. He declares that people can choose the path of the future: whether to continue damaging ecosystems at large; to continue with the status quo, but set aside some preserves; or to modify current behaviors based on what we have learned. He bases his studies on the assumption that people generally will choose the third path. Rather than lecturing on eco-friendly living or scientific evidence, Wills teaches science and green methods by sharing anecdotes from his own travels around the world, and numerous photographs and illustrations highlight his stories. Wills occasionally lapses into heavier science, including the Janzer-Connell hypothesis of pathogens or details of Neanderthal DNA, but the bulk of his work will appeal to anyone interested in the environment and how humans live in it. (May)
From the Publisher

"In his latest popular science book, an encompassing work of fresh and realigning perspectives and discoveries enlivened by his wildlife photographs, Wills explores how ecosystems are shaped by evolution and how we are shaped by evolution and the ecosystems we inhabit." --Booklist

"The author argues that human beings not only shape ecosystems, but are shaped by them. Thus, he writes, while we have pushed the green equilibrium out of balance in many places, making them unsustainable and threatening our own existence, the evolution of our species has given us 'pretty good brains,' with the ability to understand the problems we have created and the power to solve them. Wills is both a skilled storyteller and a talented photographer and he provides an eye-opening account of the long history of human migrations out of Africa and into Europe, Asia, Australia and the Americas."
--Kirkus Reviews

Library Journal
Field biologist Wills (biological sciences, emeritus, Univ. of California, San Diego; The Darwinian Tourist) here recounts visits to diverse wildlife reserves around the world, illustrated with his photographs, while discussing many aspects of evolution. The author describes a green equilibrium as balance among organisms that maintains a local ecosystem. No paradise, it includes predation, disease, and starvation. Humans have been a destructive force pushing many ecosystems out of equilibrium, for example, by deforestation and by killing off top predators. Yet organizations, scientists, and park rangers are working to maintain or restore many areas, sometimes risking their lives confronting illegal loggers or poachers. Two American reserves undergoing restoration ecology are the Santa Cruz Island and the former Sedgwick Ranch, both located near Santa Barbara in southern California. Wills believes growing awareness of our huge environmental impact means we must take responsibility. VERDICT The author articulates many aspects of biology through the ages, but his rapid shifts among different nature reserves can be disorienting. Biology students, fans of the author's previous books, and anyone interested in sustainability will appreciate his points.—David Conn, formerly with Surrey Libs., BC
Kirkus Reviews
A field biologist with camera in hand travels around the planet to discover the factors that lead to the survival of balanced ecosystems. Wills (Emeritus Biological Sciences/Univ. of California, San Diego; The Darwinian Tourist: Viewing the World Through Evolutionary Eyes, 2010, etc.) chronicles visits to sites in California, Guyana, Brazil, the Pacific and southeast Asia, some relatively pristine, some threatened, some recovering nicely from the effects of human damage. He sees the balancing of pressures on thriving ecosystems as a "green equilibrium." These pressures are constantly changing, and the greater the genetic and ecological diversity within the ecosystem's population, the greater the likelihood that some members will adapt to the changes and survive. The author argues that human beings not only shape ecosystems, but are shaped by them. Thus, he writes, while we have pushed the green equilibrium out of balance in many places, making them unsustainable and threatening our own existence, the evolution of our species has given us "pretty good brains," with the ability to understand the problems we have created and the power to solve them. Wills is both a skilled storyteller and a talented photographer, and he provides an eye-opening account of the long history of human migrations out of Africa and into Europe, Asia, Australia and the Americas. He gives readers the big picture as well as the striking small details that stay in the mind, and he ends on a high note: We can quantify our impact on the environment; what is beyond quantifying is the sheer joy of making it better. For general readers, an essentially optimistic view of earth's ecological problems and the role humans have played in creating them and can play in solving them.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780199645701
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 3/22/2013
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 1,374,309
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Christopher Wills is Emeritus Professor of Biological Sciences and a member of the Center for Molecular Genetics at the University of California, San Diego. He is the author of many books, including The Darwinian Tourist, The Runaway Brain, Plagues, Children of Prometheus, and The Spark of Life (with Jeffrey Bada). He received the Award for Public Understanding of Science and Technology from the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which honors working scientists who make outstanding contributions to the popularization of science.

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Table of Contents

Introduction
1. How Ecosystems Work
2. Maintaining a Green Equilibrium
3. Stewardship and its Perils
4. The Challenge of Restoration Ecology
5. Catastrophes of the Past: How Three Different Ecosystems Have Responded to Existential Threats
6. A Blending of Genetic Equilibria: The Origins of Our Species
7. Ex Africa Semper Aliquid Novi
8. Introgression and Equilibria in Our Gene Pools
9. The Intertwined Histories of Humans and Their Ecosystems
10. Learning From Our History
11. The Origin of Our Pretty Good Brains
12. Genes, Cultures, and Green Equilibria L'Envoi Notes Bibliography

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