BOOK: The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History

Elizabeth Kolbert, The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History (New York : Henry Holt and Co, 2014), 336 pp.

A major book about the future of the world, blending intellectual and natural history and field reporting into a powerful account of the mass extinction unfolding before our eyes.

Over the last half a billion years, there have been five mass extinctions, when the diversity of life on earth suddenly and dramatically contracted. Scientists around the world are currently monitoring the sixth extinction, predicted to be the most devastating extinction event since the asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs. This time around, the cataclysm is us. In The Sixth Extinction, two-time winner of the National Magazine Award and New Yorker writer Elizabeth Kolbert draws on the work of scores of researchers in half a dozen disciplines, accompanying many of them into the field: geologists who study deep ocean cores, botanists who follow the tree line as it climbs up the Andes, marine biologists who dive off the Great Barrier Reef. She introduces us to a dozen species, some already gone, others facing extinction, including the Panamian golden frog, staghorn coral, the great auk, and the Sumatran rhino. Through these stories, Kolbert provides a moving account of the disappearances occurring all around us and traces the evolution of extinction as concept, from its first articulation by Georges Cuvier in revolutionary Paris up through the present day. The sixth extinction is likely to be mankind’s most lasting legacy; as Kolbert observes, it compels us to rethink the fundamental question of what it means to be human.

Kolbert has done any radio interviews and podcasts about her new book, including for NPR, Slate, New Books in Environmental Studies, and the American Museum of Natural History.

On a similar note – a new documentary, 6 the Movie:

Darwin Sign Project

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Today I learned about a fun project at the Charles Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos:

Those who have visited Galapagos will know that the sign outside the Charles Darwin Research Station (CDRS) is a popular spot to have your photograph taken. In recognition of the 50th anniversary of the research station, the Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF) and the Friends of Galapagos Organisations are asking you to send in your photos beside the sign to contribute to a giant montage that will go on display at the new visitor centre. It is a great opportunity for you to become a part of Galapagos history!

Submissions will be accepted until 20 January 2015 (when the CDRS turns 51 years old) and all eligible participants will be notified via email to view the final photo collection online.

A voluntary donation with each photo submission will be put towards building repairs and maintenance of the research station, helping to keep CDF at the forefront of Galapagos conservation science for years to come.

If you’ve got such a photo, head here to submit it! Wish I had such a photo…

Watch “Your Inner Fish” from PBS online!

PBS just finished airing a three-part documentary based on paleontologist Neil Shubin’s book Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body, which he hosted. For anyone interested in evolution and how humans are related to the rest of the animal world, this is a must-see. It’s very well done, visually and with content. You can watch each of the episodes through the PBS website, Shubin tells me, for up to two weeks following the air date for each episode (thus, 4/24 for episode 1, May 1 for episode 2, and May 8 for episode 3. It’s April 25th today, and as of early this morning PST, episode 1 was still viewable. Just click on any of the three images below to view an episode!

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The Dispersal of Darwin turns 7, and feedback wanted

Today marks seven years since I started The Dispersal of Darwin. Posting was heavy while I was in school, and has since declined in the last couple of years, and even more so since starting another blog and having a second child.

While I wish I had the means to post original content, I hope, my readers, that you still enjoy the smattering of videos, new article and book notices, and other posts. Is it time to retire DoD, or should I keep dispersing Darwin, evolution, and history of science content?

ARTICLE: The katydid that was: the tananá, stridulation, Henry Walter Bates and Charles Darwin

A new article in Archives of Natural History (April 2014):

The katydid that was: the tananá, stridulation, Henry Walter Bates and Charles Darwin

Claudio J. Bidau

Abstract The Amazonian bush-cricket or katydid, Thliboscelus hypericifolius (Orthoptera: Tettigoniidae: Pseudophyllinae), called tananá by the natives was reported to have a song so beautiful that they were kept in cages for the pleasure of listening to the melodious sound. The interchange of letters between Henry Walter Bates and Charles Darwin regarding the tananá and the issue of stridulation in Orthoptera indicates how this mysterious insect, which seems to be very rare, contributed to the theory of sexual selection developed by Darwin.

Episode 2 of Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey is all about evolution

You must be living under a rock if you haven’t heard about or seen the first two episodes of the reboot to Carl Sagan’s Cosmos: A Personal Voyage (originally aired on PBS in 1980), Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey (on FOX and National Geographic networks). While all of it so far has been a treat to watch and Tyson is charming in his enthusiasm for science, the first episode (FOX/Hulu) came under fire largely by historians for its cartoon depiction of how Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake by the Roman Inquisition in 1600 for his cosmological views (painting him a martyr for science and perpetuating the long-discredited “conflict thesis”). If you wish to dive into this discussion, see these posts: 1, 2, 3, and 4). Luckily the second episode, all about evolution, steered clear of myth-making in the history of science and presented a solid treatment of evolution (thoughts from PZ Myers, Larry Moran, and Steven Newton/NCSE about the episode).

You can view episode 2 of Cosmos, “Some of the Things Molecules Do,” through FOX or Hulu. Enjoy!