Why big fierce animals are rare

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why big fierce animals are rare

Why Big Fierce Animals Are Rare: An Ecologists Perspective by Paul Colinvaux

The first part of my review is actually in my reading progress comments below - if you really want to know what I think, you have to read those. ;)

Now Im done. Overall, I love the book, and would have read it several times if Id owned it when it was new & I was a teen. Now, I just dont know how much is still relevant, and what the current understanding of how nature works is compared to what it was back 4 decades ago. I do know Im not convinced by the authors argument, in the last chapter, about how human animals live and human societies grow.

But its a fairly easy read, and the authors voice is engaging and relatively light. And he keeps saying things in fresh way, in a way that helps us think, in an idiom that sticks. For example, consider herbivores as hunters of plants: as far as the genes of the plants can cope, cows etc. are predators.

Also, its a great read because the author admits that science is a process. It looks for deeper answers and is not satisfied with intuitive understandings or data that doesnt fit popular theories. As he puts it at one point, Ecologists are still inclined to argue about these things, but it does look as if we might have the general answer to these questions, all the same. Research is still needed, for example by wildlife management research scientists like my middle son.

But theres a lot in here that makes wonderful sense, just as it is, too. Things that Im sure Colinvaux and his sources have figured out, things that educators and policy-makers have yet to learn. For example, did you know that the ocean is mostly an infertile desert and that were already getting pretty much as much sustenance as we can from it?

And did you know that theres less competition than peaceful coexistence in nature? Fighting takes a lot of energy that is better used towards reproduction, after all. If you read only one chapter from this book, read the chapter titled Peaceful Coexistence. Heres some of it:

Animals and plants in nature are not... engaged in endless debilitating struggle, as a loose reading of Darwin might suggest. Nature is arranged so that competitive struggles are avoided..... A species lives triumphant in its own special niche....

Natural selection is harsh only to the deviant aggressor who seeks to poach on the niche of another.

Now the above is about inter-species interaction. Consider something even more potentially relevant to discussions of humans warlike nature: wolves cull the young, old, and sick large herbivores, because if the pack took on a healthy adult, some of the wolves would get hurt, and a hurt wolf can hunt no more. Natural selection see to it that the strain of brave aggressiveness in wolves is purged from the wolf gene pool because such individuals would incur more than an average share of being fatally hurt. and thus would leave fewer descendants.

Now, the problem with humans is that we create new niches. Colinvaux, in his concluding chapter, says we Change our niches without changing our breeding strategy. To a certain extent, and from the perspective of 1977, hes right. Fortunately, weve seen evidence that empowering and educating women has led to them choosing smaller families. I am more optimistic than the author that this trend will continue, and that we will somehow develop strategies to share a healthy planet with whales, wolves, frogs, and plankton.

But who is far-sighted, who is looking at the big picture? Ecology doesnt even seem to be a thing anymore - can anyone tell me who is following in Colinvauxs footsteps? Can anyone tell me what has been learned since about the topics he studied?
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Published 10.03.2019

Why Big Fierce Animals Are Rare An Ecologists Perspective

Published by Princeton University Press
Paul Colinvaux

Why Big Fierce Animals are Rare: An Ecologist's Perspective

Here is one of the most provocative, wide-ranging, and delightful books ever written about our environment. Paul Colinvaux takes a penetrating look at the science of ecology, bringing to his subject both profound knowledge and an enthusiasm that will encourage a greater understanding of the environment and of the efforts of those who seek to preserve it. The book is about ecology, or the inter- connection of all the plants and animals in the world. This is a developing subject looking to answer the question in Colinvaux's words of "why some animals I'd had this shelved as read, but I'm pretty sure that's an accident.

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  1. Durandana M. says:

    Thank you!

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