Biology

The Diversity of Life by Edward O. Wilson

What's most astonishing about the vast breadth of life on earth is how little we know about it. Less than 10% of all species currently in existence on the planet have even been given a name! The majority of the book is spent on driving home the point of just how incredibly diverse life is. Worlds within worlds: a particular large bettle that lives only on a particular breed of tree growing in one corner of the earth is itself a walking microcosm. On its back grows unique breeds of fungus, and yet tinier beetles that roam around there. Zoom in even further and you have bacteria and other microorganisms. All of the species represented are dependent upon this vertical heirarchy. Thus wiping out the particular breed of tree that hosts all of this kills not just one species, but thousands, most yet undocumented by science.

I found that the author made the point of biodiversity so well that I found myself thinking: who cares? If there are really so very many unique species everywhere we turn, what difference does the loss of one or another make? In the latter part of the book he addresses this, making the point that there is a vast quantity of biological wealth to be had from these species. I find it interesting that he makes the point from this angle. Although he certainly believes in saving the environment and the species within it for their intrinsic value, he recognizes the problem: most of the world's biodiveristy is in the hands of its poorest people, since biodiversity goes up exponentially as one approaches the equator, but tropical climates are hard places for humans to live and thus everyone there tends to be poor.

He claims (and backs it up with plenty of interesting evidence) that there is much more biological wealth to be had in an acre of rainforest with its environment intact than clearing the land for ranching or the one-time value of wild tree harvest. However the people who own this land are too poor to have the proper information and resources to access this wealth, so the squander it (and with it, destroy any chance of the scientific knoweldge of the species it contains).

The author further argues that although preserves and laws protecting species and habitats are good, this is not and can never be the full solution. Only information about the biological wealth of the environments people live in will motivate them to want to preserve natural environments.

Rating: 4 of 5
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