193 pages, illustrations
"An energetic start quickly became a trudge; we glanced back frequently towards our point of departure, an air-conditioned vehicle. Not only did the hot air feel like a blast from a smelter's furnace, but within minutes the reflected sunlight was doing perceptible damage to any exposed skin. I'm sure I was sweating more than I ever had before, yet my skin was dry...We found ourselves blinking rapidly to keep the eyes moist. After a few more minutes, we turned back for the car, leading our youngest child who would no longer open her eyes."
– John Sowell
Unlike books that merely identify what plants and animals live in the desert, Desert Ecology is a comprehensive but accessible introduction to how these organisms live where they do. Beginning with an overview of the Intermountain, Mojave, Sonoran, and Chihuahuan Deserts, Sowell presents the topographic and the meteorologic conditions that created these regions. He continues with a thorough examination of physiologic and behavioral adaptations that enable plants and animals, even humans, to survive and persist in these inhospitable places. While basic scientific principles – such as photosynthesis, trophic levels, thermoregulation, and osmoregulation – are presented in terms that nonspecialists will understand, the real draw is the fascinating life histories of dozens of particular organisms. Explore the life cycle of the yucca and creosote bush, trace the wanderings of the gila monster and tenebrionid beetle, breathe in the rhythms of the desert at night. "Desert Ecology is for the curious," says the author, for all who enter the "wasteland," on foot or through imagination.
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John Sowell is professor of biology at Western State College in Gunnison, Colorado.