272 pages, 54 b/w photos, 2 tables
From a small island in the Baltic Sea to the large tropical islands of Borneo and Madagascar, Messages from Islands is a global tour of these natural, water-bound laboratories. In this career-spanning work, the late Ilkka Hanski draws upon the many islands on which he has performed fieldwork to convey key themes in ecology. By exploring the islands' biodiversity as an introduction to general issues, Hanski helps us to learn how species and communities interact in fragmented landscapes, how evolution generates biodiversity, and how this biodiversity is maintained over time.
Beginning each chapter on a particular island, Hanski dives into reflections on his own field studies before going on to pursue a variety of ecological questions, including: What is the biodiversity crisis? What are extinction thresholds and extinction debts? What can the biodiversity hypothesis tell us about rapidly increasing allergies, asthma, and other chronic inflammatory disorders? The world's largest island, Greenland, for instance, is the starting point for a journey into the benefits that humankind acquires from biodiversity, including the staggering biodiversity of microbes in the ecosystems that are closest to us – the ecosystems in our guts, in our respiratory tracts, and under our skin. Conceptually oriented but grounded in an adventurous personal narrative, Messages from Islands is a landmark work that lifts the natural mysteries of islands from the sea, bringing to light the thrilling complexities and connections of ecosystems worldwide.
"Combining a personal memoir with serious discussion of a scientific subject is a difficult literary trick. The Finnish biologist Hanski succeeded with aplomb in his last book, Messages from Islands, in which each chapter begins with insights from an island that moulded his thinking about ecology, evolution, and conservation [...] Hanski's passionate concern for biodiversity is evident throughout the book [...] His own experiences are illuminating [...] His book does not shy away from the challenges that face humanity or the threats to biodiversity. Yet it is an uplifting read, revealing the author's humanity and deep love of the natural world. I cannot think of a better book to give to a general reader who wants an insight into modern ecology and how ecologists go about their trade."
– H. Charles J. Godfray, University of Oxford, Nature
"In this clear and cogent book, the late Hanski builds on detailed knowledge of many island systems to illustrate key processes relating to the diversity of life. The world over, biodiversity is under threat. Here, a leading ecologist of a generation explores the benefits of biodiversity, rooting this in extensive fieldwork and theoretical insight. Each chapter helpfully finishes with pithy messages, drawing together the key findings and their implications [...] The future poses great risks for humans, Hanski writes drily. John Muir observed that every tree calls for special admiration; Ronald Reagan, in contrast, insisted that if you've seen one redwood, you've seen them all. Hanski shows that our attitudes, behaviours and policies matter for biodiversity. They matter too for one blue-green island with impermeable boundaries: it is in deep, dark space on the outside arm of the Milky Way galaxy."
– Jules Pretty, University of Essex, Times Higher Education
"Hanski's book is an engaging example of an unusual genre – a personal journal through a professional landscape. Join him on his travels, share his insights and wisdom, and learn the basic principles of population ecology."
– Peter R. Grant and B. Rosemary Grant, Princeton University,coauthors of 40 Years of Evolution: Darwin's Finches on Daphne Major Island
"Hanski cut a wide swath across ecology, evolution, and conservation biology, with innovative approaches to understanding the distribution, diversity, and vicissitudes of life on earth at all levels, from genes through entire ecosystems and from microbes to mammals. All scientists know his key finding that much of nature is distributed as metapopulations of loosely connected, largely isolated populations, his insights on the mechanisms of population and species extinction, and his elegant field research on insect populations. As Hanski makes clear in Messages from Islands, almost all of his inspiration and insights originate with his observations and research on many islands around the world, and his work on islands and work of many others, such as Darwin and Wallace, have underpinned a huge fraction of what we know about biodiversity today, how it came to be as it is, and the forces currently threatening it. In each chapter, using one of his many island explorations as a springboard, he develops in comprehensive yet accessible language an aspect of scientific knowledge of the diversity of life. In sum, Hanski's book is an elegant, engaging, and remarkably thorough description of the scope and wonderfully intricate details of biodiversity, as well as what we must do to save it."
– Daniel Simberloff, University of Tennessee
"Islands gave Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace critical clues about evolution. Hanski shows they are a gift that still spawns compelling questions: How many species are there, how did they get there, what are we doing to diminish biodiversity, and why is this important? He does this in a rich personal adventure that spans the planet from the frozen arctic to the steamy tropics – working on small animals, yes, but ones that generate great insights."
– Stuart L. Pimm, Duke University, coauthor of Patterns in Nature: The Analysis of Species Co-Occurrences
"What a lovely book. Messages from Islands reminds me of Edward O. Wilson's The Diversity of Life, with its mix of the personal and the scientific, its elegant tone, its straightforward and crystal clear prose, and the subtle way in which so much ecological and evolutionary ground is covered. Hanski excels at enmeshing himself into the story to introduce readers to the process of science and to demonstrate how we know what we know. I am certain that every practicing ecologist and evolutionary biologist will want to read this book just to see what Hanski's take on various issues is after so many productive years of research. Given Hanski's standing in the field and all that he has done for our understanding of how the natural world works and what we can and should be doing to preserve what's left of it, he should be given carte blanche to publish whatever book he wants to write. Luckily for all of us, the book that he has written is one of the best tales of scientific discovery and understanding, and of the humans who make those discoveries, that I have ever read."
– Nathan J. Sanders, University of Copenhagen
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Ilkka Hanski (1953-2016) was professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and director of the Metapopulation Research Centre at the University of Helsinki. He is the author of Metapopulation Ecology, among several monographs and edited works.