Hurricane lizards and plastic squid The fraught and fascinating biology of climate change

Thor Hanson

Book - 2021

"In his three previous books-Feathers, The Triumph of Seeds, and Buzz-Thor Hanson has taken his readers on unforgettable journeys into nature, rendered with great storytelling, the soul of a poet, and the insight of a biologist. In this new book, he is doing it again, but exploring one of the most vital scientific and cultural issues of our time: climate change. As a young biologist, Hanson by his own admission watched with some detachment as our warming planet presented plants and animals ...with an ultimatum: change or face extinction. But his detachment turned to both concern and awe, as he observed the remarkable narratives of change playing out in each plant and animal he studied. In Hurricane Lizards and Plastic Squid, Hanson tells the story of how nature-both plants and animals, from beech trees to beetles-are meeting the challenges of rapid climate change head-on, adjusting, adapting, and sometimes noticeably evolving. Brown pelicans are fleeing uphill, seeking out new lives in the mountains. Gorillas in Uganda are turning to new food sources, such as eucalyptus trees (which humans only imported to Africa in the past several decades), as their old sources wain. Auklets, a little sea bird, aren't so lucky: changes in the lifecycles of their primary food source means they return at specific times of year to oceanic feeding grounds expecting plankton blooms that are no longer there. As global warming transforms and restructures the ecosystems in which these animals and others live, Hanson argues, we are forced to conclude that climate change will not have just one effect: Some transformations are beneficial. Others, and perhaps most, are devastating, wiping out entire species. One thing is constant: with each change an organism undergoes, the delicate balance of interdependent ecosystems is tipped, forcing the evolution of thousands more species, including us. To understand how, collectively, these changes are shaping the natural world and the future of life, Hanson looks back through deep time, examining fossil records, pollen, and even the tooth enamel of giant wombats and mummified owl pellets. Together, these records of our past tell the story of ancient climate change, shedding light on the challenges faced by today's species, the ways they will respond, and how these strategies will determine the fate of ecosystems around the globe. Ultimately, the story of nature's response to climate change is both fraught and fascinating, a story of both disaster and resilience, and, sometimes, hope. Lyrical and thought-provoking, Hurricane Lizards and Plastic Squid is poised to transform the conversation around climate change, shifting the focus from humans to the lattice of life, of which humans are just a single point"--

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Subjects
Published
New York : Basic Books 2021.
Edition
First edition
Language
English
Physical Description
xvii, 280 pages : illustrations ; 22 cm
Bibliography
Includes bibliographical references (pages 247-265) and index.
ISBN
9781541672420
1541672429
Main Author
Thor Hanson (author)
  • Introduction: Thinking about it
  • Nothing stays the same
  • Mephitic air
  • Right place, wrong time
  • The nth degree
  • Strange bedfellows
  • The bare necessities
  • Move
  • Adapt
  • Evolve
  • Take refuge
  • Pushing the envelope
  • Surprise, surprise
  • That was then, this is now
  • Conclusion: Everything you can.
Review by Library Journal Reviews

Biologist Hanson (Buzz: The Nature and Necessity of Bees) explores ways in which plants and animals adjust to climate change, which fall into three categories: move, adapt, or die. While humans dither about what our responses should be, other species have been getting on with it. Hanson begins with a history of thought about the natural world and the carbon dioxide molecule, then delves into how nature is already shifting in response to changing climate. Not all species are doomed, he writes; the organisms that thrive will be those that display the most flexibility in response to shifts in temperature. For instance, trees can leaf out earlier in the year, and insects may be able to emerge sooner. However, birds, whose migration patterns depend on shortening or lengthening days, will arrive at the same time of year to find that their food sources have already bloomed or hatched. Sea creatures who migrate northward with warming water have the potential to upset the ecosystems they encounter along the way. VERDICT This compelling read will spark the interest of everyone who cares about what is happening to the natural world.—Rachel Owens, Daytona State Coll. Lib., FL Copyright 2021 Library Journal.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

Biologist Hanson (Buzz) takes readers under the wings of birds, into the shade of spruce trees, and underground to learn about 55-million-year-old fossils in this exciting exploration of nature's response to climate change. "Understanding biological responses to climate change can help us find our place within it," Hanson writes. "Simply put, if bush crickets, bumblebees, and butterflies can learn to modify their behaviors, then it stands to reason that we can too." As he moves across time and habitats, he visits Walden Pond, where temperatures have risen an average 4.3 degrees Fahrenheit since Thoreau's time; watches Alaskan grizzly bears take a pass on salmon in favor of elderberries; and observes saplings along the Des Moines River migrating to safer terrain than that populated by old growth. Hanson introduces readers to an array of scientists documenting these changes and conducts his own often humorous experiments: during a failed fossil hunt in a childhood stomping ground, he's "a middle-aged stranger in a pandemic mask, carrying a backpack and a hammer," and decides "it was time to leave." With contagious curiosity, Hanson nimbly avoids pedantic, moralistic admonishments. Nature-lovers will be thrilled to see science so vividly described, and will marvel at the incredible ingenuity of creatures across the globe. Agent: Laura Blake Peterson, Curtis Brown. (Sept.) Copyright 2021 Publishers Weekly.

Review by Publisher Summary 1

The leading natural historian and author of the award-winning books Buzz, Feathers, and The Triumph of Seeds examines how plants and animals are responding to climate change by adjusting, evolving and sometimes dying out. 25,000 first printing.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

"In his three previous books-Feathers, The Triumph of Seeds, and Buzz-Thor Hanson has taken his readers on unforgettable journeys into nature, rendered with great storytelling, the soul of a poet, and the insight of a biologist. In this new book, he is doing it again, but exploring one of the most vital scientific and cultural issues of our time: climate change. As a young biologist, Hanson by his own admission watched with some detachment as our warming planet presented plants and animals with an ultimatum: change or face extinction. But his detachment turned to both concern and awe, as he observed the remarkable narratives of change playing out in each plant and animal he studied. In Hurricane Lizards and Plastic Squid, Hanson tells the story of how nature-both plants and animals, from beech trees to beetles-are meeting the challenges of rapid climate change head-on, adjusting, adapting, and sometimes noticeably evolving. Brown pelicans are fleeing uphill, seeking out new lives in the mountains. Gorillas in Uganda are turning to new food sources, such as eucalyptus trees (which humans only imported to Africa in the past several decades), as their old sources wain. Auklets, a little sea bird, aren't so lucky: changes in the lifecycles of their primary food source means they return at specific times of year to oceanic feeding grounds expecting plankton blooms that are no longer there. As global warming transforms and restructures the ecosystems in which these animals and others live, Hanson argues, we are forced to conclude that climate change will not have just one effect: Some transformations are beneficial. Others, and perhaps most, are devastating, wiping out entire species. One thing is constant: with each change an organism undergoes, the delicate balance of interdependent ecosystems is tipped, forcing the evolution of thousands more species, including us. To understand how, collectively, these changes are shaping the natural world and the future of life, Hanson looks back through deep time, examining fossil records, pollen, and even the tooth enamel of giant wombats and mummified owl pellets. Together, these records of our past tell the story of ancient climate change, shedding light on the challenges faced by today's species, the ways they will respond, and how these strategies will determine the fate of ecosystems around the globe. Ultimately, the story of nature's response to climate change is both fraught and fascinating, a story of both disaster and resilience, and, sometimes, hope. Lyrical and thought-provoking, Hurricane Lizards and Plastic Squid is poised to transform the conversation around climate change, shifting the focus from humans to the lattice of life, of which humans are just a single point"--

Review by Publisher Summary 3

*A New York Times Editor's Choice pick*Shortlisted for the 2022 Pacific Northwest Book AwardsA beloved natural historian explores how climate change is driving evolution  In?Hurricane Lizards and Plastic Squid, biologist Thor Hanson tells the remarkable story of?how plants and animals are responding to climate change: adjusting, evolving, and sometimes dying out. Anole lizards have grown larger toe pads, to grip more tightly in frequent hurricanes. Warm waters cause the development of Humboldt squid to alter so dramatically that fishermen mistake them for different species. Brown pelicans move north, and long-spined sea urchins south, to find cooler homes. And when coral reefs sicken, they leave no territory worth fighting for, so aggressive butterfly fish transform instantly into pacifists. A story of hope, resilience, and risk, Hurricane Lizards and Plastic Squid is natural history for readers of Bernd Heinrich, Robin Wall Kimmerer, and David Haskell. It is also a reminder of how unpredictable climate change is as it interacts with the messy lattice of life.