At the heart of evolution lies a bewildering paradox. Natural selection favors above all the individual that leaves the most offspring-a superorganism of sorts that Jonathan Silvertown here calls the "Darwinian demon." But if such a demon existed, this highly successful organism would populate the entire world with its own kind, beating out other species and eventually extinguishing biodiversity as we know it. Why then, if evolution favors this demon, is the world filled with so many different life forms? What keeps this Darwinian demon in check? If humankind is now the greatest threat to biodiversity on the planet, have we become the Darwinian demon?
Demons in Eden considers these questions using the latest scientific discoveries from the plant world. Readers join Silvertown as he explores the astonishing diversity of plant life in regions as spectacular as the verdant climes of Japan, the lush grounds of the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew, the shallow wetlands and teeming freshwaters of Florida, the tropical rainforests of southeast Mexico, and the Canary Islands archipelago, whose evolutionary novelties-and exotic plant life-have earned it the sobriquet "the Galapagos of botany." Along the way, Silvertown looks closely at the evolution of plant diversity in these locales and explains why such variety persists in light of ecological patterns and evolutionary processes. In novel and useful ways, he also investigates the current state of plant diversity on the planet to show the ever-challenging threats posed by invasive species and humans.
Bringing the secret life of plants into more colorful and vivid focus than ever before, Demons in Eden is an empathic and impassioned exploration of modern plant ecology that unlocks evolutionary mysteries of the natural world.
Jonathan Silvertown is professor of ecology at the Open University, Milton Keynes. He is the author or editor of Integrating Ecology and Evolution in a Spatial Context; Planl Life Histories: Ecological Correlates and Phylogenetic Constraints; More Than the Parts: Biology and Politics; and Introduction to Plant Population Ecology.
This is a fascinating account of modern plant ecology by one of the field's leading researchers. The book is centered on one of the major questions in biology: why, when all organisms have the capacity to increase greatly in number and to exclude other species, is the world so diverse? Demons in Eden will appeal to anyone interested in plants, from naturalists to gardeners to environmentalists. - Campbell Webb, Yale University"