BOOK: The Extreme Life of the Sea

While I post about a lot of history books, sometimes it’s fun to dig into a simple popular science book, such as this new title:

Stephen R. Palumbi and Anthony R. Palumbi, The Extreme Life of the Sea (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014), 256 pp.

The ocean teems with life that thrives under difficult situations in unusual environments. The Extreme Life of the Sea takes readers to the absolute limits of the ocean world–the fastest and deepest, the hottest and oldest creatures of the oceans. It dives into the icy Arctic and boiling hydrothermal vents–and exposes the eternal darkness of the deepest undersea trenches–to show how marine life thrives against the odds. This thrilling book brings to life the sea’s most extreme species, and tells their stories as characters in the drama of the oceans. Coauthored by Stephen Palumbi, one of today’s leading marine scientists, The Extreme Life of the Sea tells the unforgettable tales of some of the most marvelous life forms on Earth, and the challenges they overcome to survive. Modern science and a fluid narrative style give every reader a deep look at the lives of these species.

The Extreme Life of the Sea shows you the world’s oldest living species. It describes how flying fish strain to escape their predators, how predatory deep-sea fish use red searchlights only they can see to find and attack food, and how, at the end of her life, a mother octopus dedicates herself to raising her batch of young. This wide-ranging and highly accessible book also shows how ocean adaptations can inspire innovative commercial products–such as fan blades modeled on the flippers of humpback whales–and how future extremes created by human changes to the oceans might push some of these amazing species over the edge.

KickStarter campaign for children’s book “Great Adaptations”

Evolutionary biologist Tiffany Taylor (see here) is working with a a group of artists to illustrate ten short stories in rhyme that “explain the evolutionary advantages of some of the natural world’s unusual traits in child-friendly terms.” And Taylor has teamed up with a scientist for each story to ensure science accuracy.

For Great Adaptations, she has raised over $20,000 of their $25,000 goal, with 15 days to go. Click here to read much more, watch a video, and donate!

BOOK: Darwin’s On the Origin of Species: A Modern Rendition

A new book from Indiana University Press, which is having a Darwin Day sale from February 12-28:

Darwin's On the Origin of Species

Daniel Duzdevich, Darwin’s on the Origin of Species: A Modern Rendition (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2014), 352 pp. Foreword by Olivia Judson.

Charles Darwin’s most famous book On the Origin of Species is without question, one of the most important books ever written. While even the grandest works of Victorian English can prove difficult to modern readers, Darwin wrote his text in haste and under intense pressure. For an era in which Darwin is more talked about than read, Daniel Duzdevich offers a clear, modern English rendering of Darwin’s first edition. Neither an abridgement nor a summary, this version might best be described as a “translation” for contemporary English readers. A monument to reasoned insight, the Origin illustrates the value of extensive reflection, carefully gathered evidence, and sound scientific reasoning. By removing the linguistic barriers to understanding and appreciating the Origin, this edition aims to bring 21st-century readers into closer contact with Darwin’s revolutionary ideas.

Duzdevich was interviewed for IUP’s podcast about A Modern Rendition, here.

BOOK: Alfred Russel Wallace: Letters from the Malay Archipelago

John van Wyhe and Kees Rookmaaker, eds. Alfred Russel Wallace: Letters from the Malay Archipelago (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2013), 352 pp.

This volume brings together the letters of the great Victorian naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace (1823-1913) during his famous travels of 1854-62 in the Malay Archipelago (now Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia), which led him to come independently to the same conclusion as Charles Darwin: that evolution occurs through natural selection. Beautifully written, they are filled with lavish descriptions of the remote regions he explored, the peoples, and fascinating details of the many new species of mammals, birds, and insects he discovered during his time there. John van Wyhe and Kees Rookmaaker present new transcriptions of each of the letters, including recently discovered letters that shed light on the voyage and on questions such as Wallace’s reluctance to publish on evolution, and why he famously chose to write to Darwin rather than to send his work to a journal directly. A revised account of Wallace’s itinerary based on new research by the editors forms part of an introduction that sets the context of the voyage, and the volume includes full notes to all letters. Together the letters form a remarkable and vivid document of one of the most important journeys of the 19th century by a great Victorian naturalist.

You can read the introduction here.

Darwin Day 2014 in Portland, OR

Darwin Day is fast approaching – just under three weeks until February 12, 2014. You can see on the Darwin Day website if there are to be any events in your area.

I see nothing listed yet for Oregon, but I know of a few things (let me know of any others!):

CANCELED DUE TO BAD WEATHER IN PORTLAND February 9, 10am – Humanists of Greater Portland: Darwin’s Birthday Potluck

Laurent Beauregard will give a short presentation about Darwin and his work. This will be followed by time for socializing and food. (this is through a Meetup group)

February 12, 7:30-9pm – PSU’s Biology Investigation & Outreach Presents Darwin Day Lecture With Dr. Patricia Brennan

We are pleased to announce that Dr. Patricia Brennan will be joining us to present a talk about the importance of basic science research. Slate.com recently published an article by Dr. Brennan wherein she explained how her research, focused on the evolution of waterfowl genetalia is important for understanding a whole range of evolutionary questions. Please join us for cake and coffee immediately following the lecture.

February 20, 6:30pm – Secular Humanists of East Portland: Origin of Species: Movie and Discussion Night – Pot Luck

The richness and diversity of life raises two of the most profound questions in biology: How do new species form? And, why are there so many species? Our planet has millions of species, including thousands of mammals, fish, birds, and reptiles, and even more butterflies, beetles, and other animals, each adapted to one of an enormous variety of habitats. The Origin of Species series tells the stories of the intrepid naturalists who have traveled the world, from the famed Galápagos Islands to the Malay Archipelago, in search of evidence and answers. This three part presentation is an hour total, so there will be plenty of time to socialize and for discussion. Uniquely, this documentary shows the contributions of Darwin and Wallace almost equally. Also, parts II and III are only about 15 min. long each and present how biologists have demonstrated natural selection and evolution (the change in gene frequency in a population) in the field with Darwin’s finches and anole lizards, thus showing how we know natural selection and evolution are true. You’ll learn some new biology in a short, very understandable format like you were enrolled in a university biology graduate program! Join us for a time of sharing, the movie, discussion to follow, friendship and sharing food. (this is through a Meetup group)

The University of Oregon Museum of Natural and Cultural History in Eugene is also holding some Darwin Day talks:

BOOK: The Monkey’s Voyage: How Improbable Journeys Shaped the History of Life

Ever since I wrote a paper as an undergrad in history about the seed experiments Darwin conducted to answer questions about how organisms spread from one place to another,  I have been fascinated by the topic of oceanic dispersal and how this idea conflicted with one that put agency onto the Earth itself (vicariance, or how plate tectonics accounts for where plants and animal are). That said, I am looking forward to reading this new book!

Alan de Queiroz, The Monkey’s Voyage: How Improbable Journeys Shaped the History of Life (Philadelphia: Basic Books, 2014), 368 pp.

Throughout the world, closely related species are found on landmasses separated by wide stretches of ocean. What explains these far-flung distributions? Why are such species found where they are across the Earth? Since the discovery of plate tectonics, scientists have conjectured that plants and animals were scattered over the globe by riding pieces of ancient supercontinents as they broke up. In the past decade, however, that theory has foundered, as the genomic revolution has made reams of new data available. And the data has revealed an extraordinary, stranger-than-fiction story that has sparked a scientific upheaval. In The Monkey’s Voyage, biologist Alan de Queiroz describes the radical new view of how fragmented distributions came into being: frogs and mammals rode on rafts and icebergs, tiny spiders drifted on storm winds, and plant seeds were carried in the plumage of sea-going birds to create the map of life we see today. In other words, these organisms were not simply constrained by continental fate; they were the makers of their own geographic destiny. And as de Queiroz shows, the effects of oceanic dispersal have been crucial in generating the diversity of life on Earth, from monkeys and guinea pigs in South America to beech trees and kiwi birds in New Zealand. By toppling the idea that the slow process of continental drift is the main force behind the odd distributions of organisms, this theory highlights the dynamic and unpredictable nature of the history of life. In the tradition of John McPhee’s Basin and Range, The Monkey’s Voyage is a beautifully told narrative that strikingly reveals the importance of contingency in history and the nature of scientific discovery.

You can read reviews from Richard Conniff here and Jonathan Weiner here, a deeper analysis from Nick Matzke here, and download a PDF exceprt from the NCSE here.