Science fiction and fantasy
Inheritors Of The Earth
by Chris D. Thomas
One concept sure to ruffle feathers is the author's rejection of an ideal frozen point in time that we should strive to return the natural world to. This is revolutionary. The author makes sound arguments that nature is always in flux. Many conservation projects focus on restoring animals and plants to their "natural" habitats and states, but Thomas explains a number of reasons why this is impossible. Extinctions is one of those reasons, but it's far from the only one.
The book is also careful to put humanity in its place, as part of the evolutionary process rather than separate from it, and therefore a part of nature. The author debunks the concept of nature in opposition to an artificial state. There is no nature without humanity, and due to global warming, international travel, and other issues, there is no part of the world untouched by human influence.
The book deals with increases in regional biodiversity which can take place when plants and animals move in from other areas. Although we know of species that suffer as a result of other invasive species, such as red squirrels or the dodo, the author plays this down with statistics about how rarely this happens. However, there's no way to positively spin global extinctions and biodiversity loss, the the book's cheerful tone can be jarring.
Species move a lot over time, and the discussion on this topic is fascinating. Again there are a lot of examples of migrating species, caused by a variety of factors, and the examples given are both modern and prehistoric. Thomas makes pointed criticism of conservation efforts that favour so-called "native" plants and animals over immigrants. "Illogical... to hate a fellow human, or another animal or plant, simply because they or their ancestors were somewhere else at a particular time."
It's useful to define terms, but the author explains that "species" is hard to pin down in terms of the point when two breeds or regional variations become far enough apart that they can usefully be called new species. This ties in to the impact of human selection and other activities on the pace of evolution. There's also an eye-opening discussion of hybridisation.On the topic of rewilding, the author writes about the impossibility of returning to the way things were, because evolution and species invasion happen at all levels. There's a brief mention of resurrection biology, where scientists attempt to clone extinct species such as ibex or mammoths.
"Declaring the Anthropocene to be the sixth mass extinction is somewhat premature", Thomas writes. It's a bold statement. Much in Inheritors of the Earth is shocking, and if accepted as the new orthodoxy it will have profound implications for the way we manage our conservation efforts. If I have one criticism, it's that the points Thomas makes are somewhat repetitive. However, the evidence to back them up is thorough and wide-ranging, resulting in a book that's convincing, accessible, and important.
27th January 2018
If you like this, try:The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert
We are in the middle of a mass extinction event, caused by the actions of mankind. This book tells the story so far, and examines how we are changing the biosphere.
How To Think Like A Neandertal by Thomas Wynn and Frederick L. Coolidge
The Neandertals were an evolutionary offshoot that died out. But what did they have in common with us, and what were they really like?
The Incredible Unlikeliness Of Being by Alice Roberts
Alice Roberts looks at the amazing journey of human development and why our bodies have evolved in the way they have.
Review © Ros Jackson
Source: own copy
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