Monkey's Bridge: Mysteries of Evolution in Central America

Monkey's Bridge: Mysteries of Evolution in Central America

by David Rains Wallace, Sierra Club Books

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When the Panama land bridge between North and South America formed three million years ago, plants and animals surged back and forth in the "Great American Biotic Interchange," an evolutionary cross-fertilization that has created one of the world's richest and most fascinating environments. The Monkey's Bridge is the story of Central America's role as an evolutionary…  See more details below


When the Panama land bridge between North and South America formed three million years ago, plants and animals surged back and forth in the "Great American Biotic Interchange," an evolutionary cross-fertilization that has created one of the world's richest and most fascinating environments. The Monkey's Bridge is the story of Central America's role as an evolutionary link between continents. Award-winning nature writer David Rains Wallace has explored this complex region for more than twenty years. He has ridden on horseback to an unexplored Costa Rican volcano forest, snorkeled the coral reefs of Belize, ascended Honduras's remote Platano River with Miskito Indian guides, and examined Central America's little-known paleontological record at obscure rural fossil sites. Although Europeans colonized Central America nearly five centuries ago, scientists did not perceive its role in New World history until the nineteenth century, and debate about its evolutionary past continues. No place reflects the sweep of evolutionary change more than Central America, where northern and southern organisms mingle in ecosystems ranging from Guatemalan pine-oak forests to Panamanian rain forests. An exploration of this kaleidoscopic evolutionary story, The Monkey's Bridge artfully combines vivid travel-writing, reflections on the contemporary scene, and meditations on ecological values unique to this region.

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Editorial Reviews

New York Times Book Review
[A] splendid and densely informative book....The Monkey's Bridge deserves a wide audience.
Washington Post Book World
This is fascinating stuff.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Ever since the land mass of Central America was formed just three million years ago, it has served as a crucible for evolutionary change. Plant and animal species alike migrated in both directions between North and South America, often changing dramatically during their journeys. Central American ecosystems, much like the species composing them, are remarkably diverse, ranging from wet, tropical rain forest to dry, deciduous forest, from "cloud" forests on the rims of active volcanoes to rich coral reef communities. After kicking around the area repeatedly since the early 1970s, Wallace (Adventuring in Central America) found that "mixed, blurred, unfinished Central America seemed to say something about life that had not been said before," and began to compare his own experiences and observations with the way the region is traditionally written about. The result is a book that is part travelogue, part natural history, part historical account and part bio-geographical treatise. Wallace offers a rambling eco-tourism that counts species offhandedly as they cross his path, and that wonders after their evolutionary origins with infectious enthusiasm. His eclectic approach finds him tracking the movements of conquistador Gil Gonzlez Dvila, who walked up 300 miles of Pacific coast in 1519, or excising the botfly D. hominis, which can lodge in both humans and monkeys, from his shoulder. His encounters with the natives of wildly differing regions are suffused with a straightforward understanding of how human nature (and bargaining) works in any culture. This is a panoramic look at fascinating territory form an able, amusing guide. (Oct.)
Library Journal
Central America is unique among the earth's land masses: it is neither an island nor a continent, neither cape nor peninsulait simply connects two continents. The final formation of this land bridge some three million years ago is believed to have dramatically altered the global climate. A tremendous species exchange occurred over time, resulting in a biodiversity of unprecedented proportions. Astoundingly, seven percent of the earth's species are supported by Central America's less than one percent land mass. Award-winning nature writer Wallace made nine trips there over a 24-year period, during which he explored rain forests, reefs, and rivers, searched for fossils, and talked to natives, marshaling his observations into this impressive yet compact book. Written in an engaging style, this is a valuable resource for conservationists, ecotourists, evolutionists, and anyone interested in learning more about this fascinating region. Recommended for public and academic libraries.Gloria Maxwell, Kansas City P.L., Kan.
Kirkus Reviews
The unique evolutionary story of the species-rich Central American land bridge is eloquently chronicled by Wallace (The Quetzal and the Macaw, 1992, etc.).

Five million years ago, the Isthmus of Panama, the final puzzle-piece of what became known as Central America, poked its head above water, initiating the Great American Biotic Interchange. Species that had been specific to either North or South America commenced to cruise: dogs, cats, and deer went one way across the bridge, armadillos, porcupines, and opossums the other. Wallace's own first trip south, in 1971, was to Guatemala, where the unusual mixture of animals and plants aroused his curiosity. Why, he asked himself, was he running into turkeys and foxes in the deepest jungle? So he went back, time and again, to peruse the land bridge's complex physiography, a tangle of blue mountains and malarial lowlands, high plateaus and sierras, jaguar-infested savannas, lively volcanoes, and limestone caves. While delineating these landscapes, as well as the astounding fauna and flora, he twines the narrative with histories of Western adventurers (like Christopher Columbus, for whom a land bridge was the last thing he wanted to encounter, and who died convinced that Panama was southern China); the studies of naturalists such as the pirate William Dampier and Dominican priest Francisco Ximenez; tales of fossil-hunter Barnum Brown and paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould; and a portrait of the lives of today's inhabitants, described by one researcher thus: "You can go from one little municipio to the next and find not just a completely different language, but a completely different way of looking at the world." Wallace's wildlife gleanings are enviable: pheasant cuckoos, orange-bellied trogons, rainbow cichlids.

A vibrant natural (and human) history of a biomassive throughway where large patches still remain unknown.

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Product Details

Sierra Club Books
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6.01(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.79(d)

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