The Song of the Dodo: Island Biogeography in an Age of Extinctions
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In Darwin's time, island biogeography was the science that opened Victorian minds to the wonder of evolution. Today with all the world's wild landscape being chopped into island-like fragments, it's the science of jeopardy and extinction. This book combines science, historical narrative and travel.
steady, with attrition from old age and individual mishaps roughly offset by new births. Next, the mouse suffers an epidemic disease, cutting its population to a thousand, fewer than at any other time within decades. This extreme slump even affects the owl, which begins starving for lack of prey. Weakened by hunger, the owl suffers its own epidemic, from a murderous virus. Only fourteen birds survive. Just six of those fourteen owls are female, and three of the six are too old to breed. Then a
represent the original, transcending agenda. In the late 1980s the English name of the project was changed, under some pressure from a special review committee, so as to suggest wider purposes and to achieve semantic congruence with the Brazilian version. Now it’s officially the Biological Dynamics of Forest Fragments Project. Lovejoy himself liked the old name, and so do I. The old one was narrow, yes, but also more vivid, and it gave a better sense of the project’s theoretical roots. Those
national pride, he corrects himself: “—other people to help with the follow-through.” It’s a few days after our flight over the project aboard the little plane. In the meantime we have gone back out on foot. We have hiked down a path, away from the clear-cuts, deep into an area of undisturbed forest, where I’ve had the chance to appreciate its magnificent wealth of particulars at close range. We have walked through a wilderness of filtered green light, surrounded by gauzy humidity, buzzing and
pigs. The forest here has been cut, in order to open more area as grassland and thereby boost the population of those pestiferous deer, which provide recreation for a few wealthy Mauritian hunters. At the clearing edges, we see some of the shooting stations—log towers—that make the sport genteel and convenient, if not very sporting. “It’s criminal, what’s going on in places like this,” says Lewis. “They’re still cutting down Mauritius’s heritage.” I’m reminded that the official national emblem of
their labs became engrossed with the phenomenon of mutation (which seemed to suggest that new species might arise suddenly and sympatrically), they too overlooked the significance of geographical isolation. The concept went out of fashion. Karl Jordan, a German entomologist based in England, was one of the few scientists of that era who stressed geography. The trend was against him. With theoreticians having granted their sanction to the concept of sympatric speciation, more and more field