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Over 7 billion people depend on plants for healthy, productive, secure lives, but few of us stop to consider the origin of the plant kingdom that turned the world green and made our lives possible. And as the human population continues to escalate, our survival depends on how we treat the plant kingdom and the soils that sustain it. Understanding the evolutionary history of our land floras, the story of how plant life emerged from water and conquered the continents to dominate the planet, is fundamental to our own existence.
In Making Eden David Beerling reveals the hidden history of Earth's sun-shot greenery, and considers its future prospects as we farm the planet to feed the world. Describing the early plant pioneers and their close, symbiotic relationship with fungi, he examines the central role plants play in both ecosystems and the regulation of climate. As threats to plant biodiversity mount today, Beerling discusses the resultant implications for food security and climate change, and how these can be avoided. Drawing on the latest exciting scientific findings, including Beerling's own field work in the UK, North America, and New Zealand, and his experimental research programmes over the past decade, this is an exciting new take on how plants greened the continents.
Illustrations and plates
1: All flesh is grass
2: Fifty shades of green
3: Genomes decoded
4: Ancient genes, new plants
5: Gas valves
6: Ancestral alliances
7: Sculpting climate
8: Eden under siege
David Beerling is the Sorby Professor of Natural Sciences, and Director of the Leverhulme Centre for Climate Change Mitigation at the University of Sheffield. Before this he held a Royal Society University Research Fellowship, where his work on the evolution of life and the physical environment was recognised by the award of the prestigious Philip Leverhulme Prize in earth sciences in 2001. He has published numerous articles in academic journals and is the author of The Emerald Planet (OUP, 2007). This book formed the basis of a major three-part BBC Two television series, How to Grow a Planet. He was elected to the Fellowship of the Royal Society, London, in 2014.
"I enjoyed David Beerling's 2007 book Emerald Planet, but I think I enjoyed Making Eden even more. As a plant ecologist, I naturally take more than a passing interest in plants, but I confess I don't try to keep up with the latest research on their origin and evolution, so this book filled in some fairly gaping holes in my knowledge. [...] I loved this book, and I hope plenty of people read it and learn just how much we owe to plants."
– Ken Thompson, The Niche, September 2019
"David Beerling takes the reader through the latest scientific advances with both deep knowledge and skilful writing. Plants have shaped the rest of the biological world. He explains why, far from being a nineteenth century science, Beerling explains why botany should lie at the centre of debates about how we deal with the future of the biosphere."
– Richard Fortey
"Beerling shows us that plants made our planet habitable, and that the fates of people and plants are inextricably intertwined. Against this billion-year backdrop we should think carefully about whether hubris or humility is the better guide for navigating an uncertain planetary future."
– Sir Peter Crane, author of Ginkgo: The Tree that Time Forgot
"This book does exactly what David Beerling promises in the sub-title – it explains with clarity and passion the extraordinary story of how plants escaped from their ancestral marine habitats and came to dominate terrestrial ecosystems. He also brings to life vividly the huge impact this has had, and continues to have, on all life on earth (including our own) and how we, Homo sapiens, are now threatening our own future existence by the damage we are inflicting on earth's increasingly degraded and fragile ecosystems."
– Richard Deverell, Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew