Where the Wild Things Were: Life, Death, and Ecological Wreckage in a Land of Vanishing Predators

Where the Wild Things Were: Life, Death, and Ecological Wreckage in a Land of Vanishing Predators

by William Stolzenburg


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For years, predators like snow leopards and white-tipped sharks have been disappearing from the top of the food chain, largely as a result of human action. Science journalist Will Stolzenburg reveals why and how their absence upsets the delicate balance of the world's environment.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781596916241
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Publication date: 07/01/2009
Pages: 304
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.10(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Will Stolzenburg has studied predator control techniques and worked as a wildlife technician, monitoring endangered species. He has written hundreds of magazine features and columns on the ecology of rarity and extinction for Science News and Nature Conservancy, among others. He lives in Shepherdstown, West Virginia.

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Where the Wild Things Were 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 23 reviews.
wayno53 More than 1 year ago
I heard the author on NPR. Thought the book might be interesting. I was wrong, this book in unbelievable. It paints a clear and concise story of the complex interrelationships in the ecosystem and the importance of the predators. This book should be required reading for all students and should be read by all people interested in saving our planet.
malegre More than 1 year ago
This is an informative, interesting, and disturbing account of the ecological impact of predator elimination. The author points out that some environmental problems commonly blamed on climate change may actually be the result of the loss of major predators in ecosystems. A particular point I found of concern is that what we today perceive to be wilderness is in truth an anemic vestige of once healthy ecosystems. Our standard for what we consider wild is sinking with potentially devastating consequences. This book provides a perspective on ecological issues not commonly covered in the popular press. I highly recommend you read this book if you care about the future of this planet.
Guest More than 1 year ago
'Where the Wild Things Were' is a profoundly thoughtful account of the importance of native carnivores - and the consequences that follow their loss. The book links together intriguing scientific stories around the world through researchers documenting the decline of ecosystems when they lose their top carnivores. Humans largely tend to misunderstand the critical role that these carnivores play in maintaining healthy biodiversity but, as public awareness grows, more can be done to help conserve these species. This book is a must read for high school and college biology students and anyone who wants to gain a better understanding of the importance of wildlife conservation. Suzanne Asha Stone, Northern Rockies Wolf Conservation Specialist, Defenders of Wildlife.
chapeauchin on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
What I will never forget after reading this book is the difference between the natural predators of yore - lions, foxes etc - and the new, human ones. The fourlegged predators preyed on the old, the weak and the vulnerable - culling out the weakest elements, as it were. The human ones prey on the trophy kills - removing the biggest and the strongest.
patrickgarson on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I have to confess, I only read 75% of this before I put it down. Where The Wild Things Were is a book clearly based on a magazine article, and desperately padded out to reach book length. It makes for a somewhat monotonous book, and it lacks the multiple dimensions you need in a typical science book.Stolzenburg's hypothesis is that by taking apex or "keystone" predators in an ecosystem out, said system will subsequently go haywire, with previously limited numbers of lower order animals exponentially growing and wreaking havoc in the process. He illustrates this using examples from the Bering Strait to the savannah. The problem is that this is not an especially complicated theory to grasp, and it's basically all Stolzenburg's got. Despite the varied locales, once you swap killer whales, for example, with lions, you're effectively reading the same chapter over and over again, and it becomes very monotonous. None of this is helped by Stolzenburg's somewhat coy attitude with his theory. Instead of diving right in to the damage caused by predator removal, he dances around trying to paint a narrative picture, dallies with one-dimensional portrayals of the scientists involved and more. But it's like watching a movie when we've already seen the end; pointless and frustrating.Even worse, though the main aspect is very well researched, Stolzenburg has made practically no effort to do any research _beyond_ his thesis. There is very little general scientific information about the species or ecosystems involved, and so once you've understood the main point, there simply isn't anything else left in the book to learn or understand. It's disappointing, because there is a germ of a good book hiding somewhere in here, but Stolzenburg needs to focus more on his "characters" in the form of the animals and ecosystems, and less on the idea of predator removal for this book to sing. I can't recommend it.
hayleyscomet on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Rarely is popular science so well-written as William Stolzenburg has managed to write it in Where the Wild Things Were. He weaves a rich tapestry of the tales of predators (and lost predators) and the scientists who study them. The damage caused by humans driving out large predators makes for an interesting and compelling read, and although it is sometimes dire, it is never preachy.In addition to Stolzenburg's main points about predators and ecology, I am impressed by Stolzenburg's treatment of the researchers in this field. From Paine to Leopold to Soule, all the names familiar to any student of biology (and some which aren't); Stolzenburg thoroughly but concisely tells of the motivations, context, and process of their research. Stories such as Paine's research on starfish are told in a clear, understandable, and interesting way, that should be appealing to someone without any biological background as well as to those who have been introduced to the concepts many times in biology classes. Stolzenburg has mastered the way of presenting the way science gets done, by telling the stories of those who do it.
firepile on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Written with the prose of a novelist and the detail of a naturalist, this is the sort of book that gets non-scientists to care about ecology. The writing is so fluid and florid that it's hard to stop reading, and yet this is not fiction. As a science junky, I already knew I was interested in what Stolzenburg had to say, but I was incredibly surprised to see just how interestingly he said it. Highly recommended, particularly for folks who aren't already invested in the movement to recognize and restore ecological balance for the sake of humanity as much as the rest of the ecosystem.
jlelliott on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Rarely have I encountered a book that does such an excellent job of presenting scientific research. Attending a scientific conference on ecology, William Stolzenburg experienced a revelation familiar to many who pursue scientific endeavors; a chance encounter ignited in him an unexpected and consuming interest in a query about the natural world. The discipline of his fancy was the study of predator species and their importance, if any, to ecological communities as a whole. Are top predators really uniquely important in shaping ecological systems? Fired with an interest in this question, Stolzenburg dives into the history of predator research, visiting the sites and the scientists that are pivotal to the field. In ¿Where the Wild Things Were¿ he reports his findings.Stolzenburg beautifully describes a series of fascinating ecological experiments and observations, and is particularly careful to identify potential bias and to warn against overgeneralization. Refreshingly, he approaches his question with a genuine interest in really looking at the evidence and thus determining the answer rather than pontificating or rationalizing a conclusion reached in a non-scientific way. Inescapably, in system after system, Stolzenburg reports that the effects of predator species are surprisingly far-reaching. Starfish not only determine the ecological diversity of tidal pools, but pumas and eagles are essential for monkey social structures and the presence of wolves and coyotes protects native flowers and song birds. The evidence is overwhelming; losing top tier predators can cause ecosystems to deteriorate in profound and unexpected ways.This knowledge is clearly of extreme important to those who want to stem the loss of the ecological diversity of our world. There is a very large constituent of people that firmly believe that all predators are bad predators, that the only good wolves and coyotes are dead, and that any contrary sentiment is so much uninformed liberal heart bleeding. Stolzenburg¿s book is vital in that it presents the relevant research and conclusions in such an unbiased way that it may, just possibly, convince some members of this group. I feel I could send this book to a certain Wisconsin deer hunter I know, without offending him; as a sportsman, he naturally views all predators as unwanted competition, reintroduction and protection as at best a waste of government money. But he loves songbirds, the lush diversity of plants and animals that can be found in more remote spaces. Could this book convince him and his brethren that protection of predators is worth minor inconveniences, as a vital step in securing the health of beloved species and ecosystems? I reserve judgment, but if the clear explication of this book has no effect, I am not sure what could.
anna_in_pdx on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I was excited to get this book. I had just seen a movie, called "Lords of Nature: Life in a Land of Great Predators," that covered many of the scientific studies and predator reintroduction issues that this book talks about in much more depth. I was struck by how crucial these animals are to their ecosystems and what damage is done by prey animals when the predators are all gone.Although I had very high expectations for this book, I was not disappointed. It's very well-written, in a journalistic fashion. It's organized in a logical way, beginning with descriptions of the various naturalists and biologists whose studies showed the importance of predators to different ecosystems, then getting into some of the issues caused by prey and "mesopredators" (small or scavenger predators that proliferate when top predators are gone, such as raccoons). It ended with a couple of chapters about the idea of bringing the top predators back, which has actually been implemented here in the US in several places, perhaps the most notable of which is Yellowstone, where wolves have greatly improved the park by affecting the behavior of the elk so that plants can grow and other animals can live in the areas protected by them.What was sad to me in reading this book was that just as I got to the last chapters, and the ideas of "rewilding" (not only bringing back wolves but bringing large predators from other countries to replace those that went extinct when man first crossed the land bridge in prehistoric times), the news was suddenly full of Western states, including my own, Oregon, that are succumbing to local pressure and killing off recently re-introduced wolves and mountain lions.Rewilding goes against the human nature grain, it seems, and that in a very big way. The book describes the visceral reaction that followed rewilding efforts and publicity, and I was watching the same reaction every day as I read articles about wolf eradication on line and read the reader comments - and it does not leave one with a lot of hope that humans can ever actually heal their ecosystems by recognizing how crucial top predators are. But I hope that books like this will not only be read by people like me, but by those whose minds may be changed.This book is not only well-written but it also contains great endnotes, bibliography and index. I very highly recommend it. I've read several environmental books in the past couple of years and this is definitely up there with the greatest ones.
NeverStopTrying on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This work offers a satisfying presentation of the comparatively recent argument that the super-predators in an ecosystem (lions and tigers and bears, oh my) serve a critical function in maintaining the stability and health of the entire system. Each chapter is essentially a stand-alone story, well told, that also serves as a presentation and discussion of the events and findings in major steps along the way in the development of this analysis. While I was vaguely familiar with the basic concept before I read the book, many of the specific instances and the full impact of their resulting consequences were new to me. Probably the least dramatic case presented, the chapter describing what is going on in my part of the world, the Potomac river basin, titled ¿Bambi¿s Revenge¿, rang true: I am watching the failure of our native wild flowers as Japanese stilt grass takes over the understories of the parks I hike ¿ and our gardens ¿ while diversity disappears. The author uses an easily accessible, casual, conversational writing style. In addition to the usual bibliography, Stolzenburg also provides a wonderful set of chapter notes that, as well as citing the key primary scientific sources, also refers readers to the best of the related popular sources and recommends the occasional documentary. I recommend this book highly to anyone interested in wildlife and sustainability. I give it 4.5 stars.
msbaba on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
William Stolzenburg's Where the Wild Things Were summarized the past sixty years of scientific discoveries concerning the importance of predators as keystone species¿remove these vital carnivores from the "Web of Life" and entire ecological systems collapse. In this book, Stolzenburg recounts the history of predatory biology as a series of riveting mystery stories. In his capable hands, the stories read like literature; they are thrilling and exciting. As I read each tale, I couldn't help but feel like I was a voyeur tagging onto the coattails of one brilliant scientist after another, each one passionately hell-bent on finding the scientific truth buried in a puzzle of conflicting evidence. Eventually, when the facts fell into place, I was filled with the thrill of discovery. I can't recall many books that have made me feel so intellectually stimulated and delighted! I actually read this book twice. The first time, I borrowed the book from the local library and only spent a few hours browsing through the text, reading here and there, trying to pick up the sense of the whole. I had to return the book before I could read it in earnest, but that brief encounter did not impress me. Browsing the book did not unlock the magic in its pages. A few weeks later, my Advanced Readers Copy arrived and I took the time to settle down and give this book my full attention. I soon discovered that this is not a book to browse. To enjoy this collection of scientific stories, readers have to read it cover to cover¿they have to give themselves over to the work and let the author pace their reading. Readers have to allow themselves the time to let each story play itself out from beginning to end. If they do, they will find that these tales will ignite their imagination and pull them along on thrilling journeys of scientific discovery. If you are interested in the concept of predators as keystone species, don't miss reading this outstanding introduction and history. This is one of those rare science books that help you understand the humanity behind the science. It is also one of those rare science books that help you feel the joy of scientific discovery.This book is highly recommended for both the professional and nonprofessional reader. The book is meticulously researched. For those who want to pursue the science further, there are fifty pages of notes and bibliography at the end.
mitchellray on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is an informative, interesting, and disturbing account of the ecological impact of predator elimination. The author points out that some environmental problems commonly blamed on climate change may actually be the result of the loss of major predators in ecosystems. A particular point I found of concern is that what we today perceive to be wilderness is in truth an anemic vestige of once healthy ecosystems. Our standard for what we consider wild is sinking with potentially devastating consequences. This book provides a perspective on ecological issues not commonly covered in the popular press. I highly recommend you read this book if you care about the future of this planet.
Nulla on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
William Stolzenburg has written an informative and accessible treatise about the demise of the large carnivores on our planet. Where the Wild Things Were is a persuasive argument for the essential role of predators in ecosystems. Rather than being seen as bloodthirsty killers, predators are shown as the regulators of biodiversity. Stolzenburg presents scenarios of various predator extinctions and the subsequent effects on the particular biomes -- examples range from the role of sea otters in kelp forests to starfish in tidal pools to wolves in America and Europe and lions in Africa, etc.According to Stolzenburg, the demise of the predator inevitably results in a surge of the prey population which brings about a domino effect of destruction to the biologic community. Anyone who lives in an area that is overrun with deer can vouch for the truth of this. I, myself, live in woods that have been gnawed to the ground by the exploding deer population. The understory is gone, rare pink ladyslippers that were abundant twenty years ago are gone, my flowers and plantings are gone, and I don't dare to plant vegetables anymore. I would welcome a wolf or two to the neighborhood!The book is written in an easy-to-comprehend style, with humor and sometimes a tad of wry self-admitted sarcasm aimed at the bumblings of those elected to protect our wild places. Definitely a "must" reading for anyone concerned with living in a biologically healthy and diverse world.
lorax on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Where the Wild Things Were is an examination of the concept of predators as keystone species -- that ecosystems are ultimately kept in balance not from the bottom up, by limited food supply, but from the top down, by the actions of predators. Depending on the ecosystem in question, the top predator may be a starfish or a tiger, but in either case they are important far out of proportion to their numbers. The most famous example of the keystone species, which Stolzenburg discusses early in the book, may be the sea otter. One of the favorite foods of the sea otter is the sea urchin, which eats kelp and which few other animals will eat. Eliminate the sea otters, and a thriving kelp forest with dozens of species of fish and invertebrates, which in turn support fish-eaters like dolphins, seals, and sharks, is converted to an "urchin barrens" where spiny sea urchins roam a seafloor almost entirely denuded of kelp and its attendant species.Starting with controlled experiments (a researcher repeatedly removing starfish from one tidepool and not another, and observing the resulting conversion of a thriving miniature ecosystem to a monoculture desert of mollusks in the starfish-free pool) and moving to discussion of half a dozen different ecosystems deprived of predators, Stolzenburg demonstrates the necessity of predators to maintaining healthy ecology. The main influence of predation, he argues, is not to reduce the numbers of prey, but to change the behavior of prey species -- elk in Yellowstone in the absence of wolves become bolder, grazing in stream bottoms where they would be vulnerable and moving around less than they otherwise would. This also provides a compelling counterargument to the suggestion of human hunters as a replacement for top predators -- few human hunters would be willing to target weak and sick animals over trophy males, or to spread their efforts out year-round rather than going out with friends during a brief hunting season.This was a fascinating and well-targeted read; while Stolzenburg never talks down to his audience, he doesn't assume familiarity with the ecological concepts he discusses, either in general or in detail. While I was familiar with the basic outline of some of his examples -- the return of wolves in Yellowstone National Park facilitating a return of aspens, sea otters as a keystone species off the northwest coast of the US and Canada -- I was never bored by his explorations of these issues. One potential disappointment is that, other than some very general discussion toward the end, the examples explored in this book are entirely North American. Part of that is certainly the limited experiences of the author, but certainly the rest of the world has also suffered from the loss of large predators. Europe may have lost its bears and wolves too long ago to have good records of what things were like before, but parts of Asia and Africa have seen ranges of predators shrink dramatically in the recent past -- have any studies been done there? And how has the Australian landscape changed with the destruction of the Tasmanian tiger? Despite these omissions I would unhesitatingly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in ecology, and especially to those with the naive view that individual animals, rather than ecosystems, should be the focus of protection.
princemuchao on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Wolves, cougers, sharks, whales, bears and lions - what happens to an ecosystem without these super predators? This book explores the history of scientific inquiry into the top-down ecological approach, along the way illustrating clearly the far-ranging impact a missing keystone predator has on an ecosystem by using real-world examples such as Yellowstone and the Aleutian Islands.Reading the first few chapters of this, I found myself a bit confused - I thought the top-down ecological model was generally accepted years ago. Certainly, the massive bibliography suggests this to be the case. Then it became clear that although the concept may be generally accepted by ecologists, the reality of returning these predators to their natural habitats is not possible because of the fear they still instill in humans.This is a very well-written (besides the epilogue: did his editor miss that?), well-researched book that I would recommend to anyone interested in the big predators or ecology.
wtshehan on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
It took me a while to get to this book, after reading it I was upset at myself for not getting to it sooner. William Stolzenburg do a great job drawing us into the tale, giving us ecological details about the lives of predators that truly inspire reverence for the carnivores. I highly recommend it to all who still a little wild themselves.
VisibleGhost on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Biology and conservation theories have been undergoing changes for the last fifty years. One of the theories gaining traction is the keystone large predator theory. When large predators disappear the ecological diversity of a region is greatly reduced. Deer and elf and other herbivores tend to resemble plagues of locusts in their consumption of trees, plants, and flowers. What tends to replace these plants in zones of over consumption is the thorny, poisonous, invasive types of plants that even deer tend to avoid. The areas from ground level to as high as herbivores can reach become nearly devoid of diversity. Not only in plant life but in birds also. Humans fear large predators and have spent years and millions in trying to eradicate them. Any attempts to reintroduce them into ecosystems are some of the bitterest fights in any arena. They make presidential politics look like child's play. The fights never end either. Most plans will generate dozens if not hundreds of lawsuits. This is true all over the world. Reintroducing turtles and other 'cute' animals are accepted by a large part of the population as non-controversial. Large predators such as the big cats, wolves, sharks, and large birds of prey are a different matter. They inspire fear and loathing. The extreme end of this is vigilantes that adopt a shoot, shovel, and shut-up message when it comes to large predators. Kill the animals, destroy the tracking devices, bury the animal, and tell no one. With continued human development and expansion most places in the world are becoming island ecologies. There is no connection between zones of diversity. Disasters or pressures leave life on these islands with nowhere to retreat or move into when such events occur. It's the end of the road for many species. This book will work for those who are new to some of these biological and conservation theories and for those who are familiar with the issues and names involved. For a debut book it is well written, information packed, and educational. It goes on my list as one of my favorites for the year.
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Started out a little slow but quickly became engrossing. Detailed descriptions conjured up vivid images. Broken into easily digestible components. I didn't like the cheap shot and sweeping generalizations towards outdoorsmen. He failed to recognize contributions by outdoorsmen in excess of $5.5 billion dollars since the institution of the Pittman-Robertson Act, and an estimated additional $750,000,000 a year in other conservation dollars. Without the conservation efforts of sportsmen and women over the last century there would likely be no place left for the apex predators to roam. One more clarification, last year hunters in Pennsylvania harvested twice as many does as bucks so I guess they aren't all trophy hunters only willing to shoot a large buck as he suggested. Okay, my rant aside I enjoyed the book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago