Green equilibrium The vital balance of humans & nature

Christopher Wills

Book - 2013

In this work, the author, a field biologist explains the rules by which ecosystems thrive, shining light on a set of ecological balancing acts that he calls "green equilibria," rules which keep our world vibrant, verdant, and ecologically intact. To explain the idea of "green equilibrium," he draws on a range of examples, including coral reefs off the densely populated Philippines, the isolated and thickly forested valleys of Papua New Guinea, the changing Himalayan kingdom... of Bhutan, and a Californian ranch being allowed to return to a wild state. He travels to Guyana's rainforests and savannahs, for instance, to provide startling vignettes of ecological processes in action. Among other topics, he highlights the snake-head mimicry that swallowtail caterpillars use to scare off predators, the symbiotic relationship between the exceedingly rare Golden Poison-Dart Frog and the tank bromeliad plant, and the invisible world of pathogens and parasites that helps to drive diversity. All these mechanisms, and many more, maintain the "green equilibria" of Guyana's rainforest ecosystems. The author also shows how "green equilibria" have shaped the evolution and history of our own species. We now know that a kind of genetic "green equilibrium" helped populations adapt to changing environmental conditions as they spread out of Africa. Striking new evidence indicates that some modern human populations still carry genes from past hominids (such as the Neanderthals) as well as genetic adaptations to local hazards such as malaria. Traveling to many different ecosystems, from coral reefs to the high Himalayas, and drawing on his own on-the-ground research, the author illuminates ecological laws in action. Perhaps most important, he introduces us to people, in many countries around the world, who are now using this new knowledge to help heal the planet.

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Subjects
Published
Oxford, UK : Oxford University Press 2013.
Edition
1st ed
Language
English
Physical Description
xxviii, 280 p., [16] p. of plates : ill. (some col.), maps ; 24 cm
Bibliography
Includes bibliographical references (p. 247-267) and index.
ISBN
9780199645701
0199645701
Main Author
Christopher Wills (-)
  • How ecosystems work
  • Maintaining a green equilibrium
  • Stewardship and its perils
  • The challenge of restoration ecology
  • Catastrophes of the past
  • A blending of genetic equilibria
  • Ex-Africa semper aliquid novi
  • Blending and balance in our gene pool
  • The intertwined histories of humans and their ecosystems
  • Learning from our history
  • Green equilibria and the origin of our pretty good brains
  • Green equilibrium is more than a metaphor
  • L'Envoi.
Review by Booklist Reviews

*Starred Review* In his latest popular science book, an encompassing work of fresh and realigning perspectives and discoveries enlivened by his wildlife photographs, Wills explores how ecosystems are shaped by evolution and how we are shaped by evolution and the ecosystems we inhabit. To define his concept of "green equilibrium," Wills describes how one such "ecological balancing act" in Tanzania's Ngorongoro Crater went awry when park rangers suppressed grassland fires: disease-bearing ticks thrived, killing many of the big cats. Wills explores other precarious green equilibriums in California, Guyana, Thailand, New Guinea, and the Himalayas as well as Pacific coral reefs. In each ecosystem, he takes a multidimensional view, analyzing astonishingly intricate "webs of associations" among predators and prey, plants, insects, and microorganisms and digging deeply into the underlying "genetic equilibrium" as he illuminates "the complexity of gene-environment interactions" and even how green equilibriums drive cultural advances. Demanding science alternates with anecdotal profiles of local people, park rangers, and scientists and cautionary tales of tragedies and triumphs, paradoxes and ironies. After unfurling a uniquely honed and eye-opening history of human evolution (especially of the brain), migration, and adaptation, Wills asserts that as "Earth's ruling predator" we must become fluent in green equilibriums, learn to be "less exploitive," and "harness the accumulated knowledge" of indigenous people to restore and protect the living world. Copyright 2012 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Choice Reviews

Green Equilibrium is partly a travelogue spanning much of the planet, in which biologist Wills (emer., Univ. of California, San Diego; The Darwinian Tourist, CH, Jun'11, 48-5682) examines the history and ecology of various areas. In general, the descriptions and interpretations are based on relatively brief visits, though in some cases the author made more than one visit to a particular locale. The writing ranges from quite serious to relatively light, easy, and pleasant to follow. The recurring theme is the role of humans, ancestral and today, in reshaping the environment. This reshaping often results in detrimental change for people, plants, and animals. Wills illustrates that climate change is a major factor in the loss of substantial numbers of species and major changes in ecosystems worldwide. Certainly, the role played by human activities is serious, but changes due to naturally occurring events cannot be downplayed. Each chapter portrays the damage that has been done to a local ecosystem, and often the joy that comes from protecting and restoring equilibria. Educating society today about this joy and satisfaction is important. Later in this discourse, Wills does an excellent job of exploring the interplay of environmental factors and human genetics over the course of history. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All readership levels. General Readers; Lower-division Undergraduates; Upper-division Undergraduates; Graduate Students; Researchers/Faculty; Professionals/Practitioners. F. W. Yow emeritus, Kenyon College Copyright 2013 American Library Association.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

Field biologist Wills (biological sciences, emeritus, Univ. of California, San Diego; The Darwinian Tourist) here recounts visits to diverse wildlife reserves around the world, illustrated with his photographs, while discussing many aspects of evolution. The author describes a green equilibrium as balance among organisms that maintains a local ecosystem. No paradise, it includes predation, disease, and starvation. Humans have been a destructive force pushing many ecosystems out of equilibrium, for example, by deforestation and by killing off top predators. Yet organizations, scientists, and park rangers are working to maintain or restore many areas, sometimes risking their lives confronting illegal loggers or poachers. Two American reserves undergoing restoration ecology are the Santa Cruz Island and the former Sedgwick Ranch, both located near Santa Barbara in southern California. Wills believes growing awareness of our huge environmental impact means we must take responsibility. VERDICT The author articulates many aspects of biology through the ages, but his rapid shifts among different nature reserves can be disorienting. Biology students, fans of the author's previous books, and anyone interested in sustainability will appreciate his points.—David Conn, formerly with Surrey Libs., BC [Page 102]. (c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

Biologist Wills (The Darwinian Tourist) examines the state of balance that keeps life on Earth "vibrant, verdant, and ecologically intact," by taking readers on a virtual world tour while discussing examples of equilibrium and disequilibrium that he has personally observed. He declares that people can choose the path of the future: whether to continue damaging ecosystems at large; to continue with the status quo, but set aside some preserves; or to modify current behaviors based on what we have learned. He bases his studies on the assumption that people generally will choose the third path. Rather than lecturing on eco-friendly living or scientific evidence, Wills teaches science and green methods by sharing anecdotes from his own travels around the world, and numerous photographs and illustrations highlight his stories. Wills occasionally lapses into heavier science, including the Janzer-Connell hypothesis of pathogens or details of Neanderthal DNA, but the bulk of his work will appeal to anyone interested in the environment and how humans live in it. (May) [Page ]. Copyright 2013 PWxyz LLC

Review by PW Annex Reviews

Biologist Wills (The Darwinian Tourist) examines the state of balance that keeps life on Earth "vibrant, verdant, and ecologically intact," by taking readers on a virtual world tour while discussing examples of equilibrium and disequilibrium that he has personally observed. He declares that people can choose the path of the future: whether to continue damaging ecosystems at large; to continue with the status quo, but set aside some preserves; or to modify current behaviors based on what we have learned. He bases his studies on the assumption that people generally will choose the third path. Rather than lecturing on eco-friendly living or scientific evidence, Wills teaches science and green methods by sharing anecdotes from his own travels around the world, and numerous photographs and illustrations highlight his stories. Wills occasionally lapses into heavier science, including the Janzer-Connell hypothesis of pathogens or details of Neanderthal DNA, but the bulk of his work will appeal to anyone interested in the environment and how humans live in it. (May) [Page ]. Copyright 2013 PWxyz LLC

Review by Publisher Summary 1

Explores the rules that govern such diverse ecosystems as the coral reefs in the Philippines and California's grasslands and looks at the role of human populations in maintaining a healthy balance in the world's ecosystems.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

In Green Equilibrium, award-winning field biologist Christopher Wills explains the rules by which ecosystems thrive, shining light on a set of ecological balancing acts that he calls "green equilibria," rules which keep our world vibrant, verdant, and ecologically intact. To explain the idea of "green equilibrium," Wills draws on a fascinating range of examples, including coral reefs off the densely populated Philippines, the isolated and thickly forested valleys of Papua New Guinea, the changing Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, and a Californian ranch being allowed toreturn to a wild state. Wills travels to Guyana's rainforests and savannahs, for instance, to provide startling vignettes of ecological processes in action. Among other topics, he highlights the astonishing snake-head mimicry that swallowtail caterpillars use to scare off predators, the symbioticrelationship between the exceedingly rare Golden Poison-Dart Frog and the tank bromeliad plant, and the invisible world of pathogens and parasites that helps to drive diversity. All these mechanisms, and many more, maintain the "green equilibria" of Guyana's rainforest ecosystems. Wills also showshow "green equilibria" have shaped the evolution and history of our own species. We now know that a kind of genetic "green equilibrium" helped populations adapt to changing environmental conditions as they spread out of Africa. Striking new evidence indicates that some modern human populations stillcarry genes from past hominids (such as the Neanderthals) as well as genetic adaptations to local hazards such as malaria.Traveling to many different ecosystems, from coral reefs to the high Himalayas, and drawing on his own on-the-ground research, Wills illuminates ecological laws in action. Perhaps most important, he introduces us to people, in many countries around the world, who are now using this new knowledge tohelp heal the planet.