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.
"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.