The Work of Nature: How the Diversity of Life Sustains Us / Edition 3

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Overview

<p>"We do not question that flesh and bone and leaf litter will decay to dust, that seeds will sprout season after season and find renewed nourishment in the soil, that rivers can flow endlessly without running dry, that we can breathe a lifetime without depleting the air of oxygen.... What humans have not fully appreciated until recently is that these services are the work of nature, performed by the rich diversity of microbes, plants, and animals on the earth." -from The Work of Natur.<p>The lavish array of organisms known as "biodiversity" is an intricately linked web that makes the earth a uniquely habitable planet. Yet pressures from human activities are destroying biodiversity at an unprecedented rate. How many species can be lost before the ecological systems that nurture life begin to break down.<p>In The Work of Nature, noted science writer Yvonne Baskin examines the threats posed to humans by the loss of biodiversity. She summarizes and explains key findings from the ecological sciences, highlighting examples from around the world where shifts in species have affected the provision of clean air, pure water, fertile soils, lush landscapes, and stable natural communities.<p>As Baskin makes clear, biodiversity is much more than number of species-it includes the complexity, richness, and abundance of nature at all levels, from the genes carried by local populations to the layout of communities and ecosystems across the landscape. Ecologists are increasingly aware that mankind's wanton destruction of living organisms-the planet's work force-threatens to erode our basic life support services. With uncommon grace and eloquence, Baskin demonstrates how and why that is so.<p>Distilling and bringing to life the work of the world's leading ecologists, The Work of Nature is the first book of its kind to clearly explain the practical consequences of declining biodiversity on ecosystem health and function.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
How many species can we afford to lose and still have a functioning planet? This is the central question for scientists who study the functional role of biodiversity. While it is morally appealing to protect dolphins and whales, it is equally important to acknowledge the critical roles played by the likes of dung beetles, parasites, microbes and beavers in producing the very matter that sustains life on earth. In this comprehensive overview of biodiversity, science journalist Baskin explains how species loss can have devastating and unexpected consequences. Using data from all continents, she explains how the biochemical processes are affected by overpopulation, pollution, introduction of exotic species, deforestation, single-crop agriculture, etc. She enlivens this sometimes dry analysis with engaging material, noting that people as early as the 15th century guessed at the relationship between rainy climate and forests, and that the overhunting of mammoths and mastodons might have altered the Arctic landscape. Cautioning that "a world without elephants, moose, prairie dogs, mangrove swamps and coral reefs would not just be an emptier version of the same scenery" because "the processes of earth, fire and water would change, too," she comes to the sobering conclusion that we must not assume that any species is expendable but must "work to preserve all [organisms]." Illustrations not seen by PW. Apr.
Booknews
Summarizes and explains key findings from the ecological sciences and examines threats posed to humans by the loss of biodiversity, highlighting examples from around the world where shifts in species have affected air, water, soil, and ecosystems. For general readers and students. Annotation c. by Book News, Inc., Portland, Or.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781559635196
  • Publisher: Island Press
  • Publication date: 2/28/1997
  • Edition description: 1
  • Edition number: 3
  • Pages: 282
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Yvonne Baskin is a widely published science journalist whose work has appeared in numerous magazines including Discover, Earth, Science, and BioScience. She divides her time between Bozeman, Montana, and San Diego, California.

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Table of Contents

Foreword
Preface
Acknowledgments
Ch. 1 This Web of Life 1
Ch. 2 The Keystone Club: Who's Important 15
Ch. 3 Community Ties 39
Ch. 4 Water: The Essence of Life 71
Ch. 5 The Vitality of the Soil 103
Ch. 6 Of Plants and Productivity 131
Ch. 7 The Power to Shape the Land 151
Ch. 8 Climate and Atmosphere 179
Ch. 9 Do We Still Need Nature? 205
Notes 225
Index 251
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