In the darkness of the star-studded desert, bats and moths feed on the nectar of night-blooming cactus flowers. By day, birds and bees do the same, taking to blooms for their sweet sustenance. In return these special creatures pollinate the equally intriguing plants in an ecological circle of sustainability.
The Sonoran Desert is the most biologically diverse desert in the world. Four species of columnar cacti, including the iconic saguaro and organ pipe, are among its most conspicuous plants. No Species Is an Island describes Theodore H. Fleming's eleven-year study of the pollination biology of these species at a site he named Tortilla Flats in Sonora, Mexico, near Kino Bay.
Now Fleming shares the surprising results of his intriguing work. Among the novel findings are one of the world's rarest plant-breeding systems in a giant cactus; the ability of the organ pipe cactus to produce fruit with another species' pollen; the highly specialized moth-cactus pollination system of the senita cactus; and the amazing lifestyle of the lesser long-nosed bat, the major nocturnal pollinator of three of these species.
These discoveries serve as a primer on how to conduct ecological research, and they offer important conservation lessons for us all. Fleming highlights the preciousness of the ecological web of our planet – Tortilla Flats is a place where cacti and migratory bats and birds connect such far-flung habitats as Mexico's tropical dry forest, the Sonoran Desert, and the temperate rain forests of southeastern Alaska. Fleming offers an insightful look at how field ecologists work and at the often big surprises that come from looking carefully at a natural world where no species stands alone.
Theodore H. Fleming is a professor emeritus of biology at the University of Miami. Fleming's research on nectar- and fruit-eating bats and their food plants has taken him to Panama, Costa Rica, Australia, and the Sonoran Desert of Mexico and Arizona. He is the author of several books, including The Ornaments of Life: Coevolution and Conservation in the Tropics.
Kim Kanoa Duffek is a horticulturist at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. Duffek has illustrated many publications, including Victor, the Reluctant Vulture. Her paintings are part of both public and private collections.
"No Species Is an Island is the culmination of a masterful, decades-long investigation. Based on outstanding hypothesis testing, Ted Fleming guides us with clarity through a maze of endlessly fascinating discoveries, well-illustrated by acclaimed wildlife artist Kim Duffek. This book is an exceptionally fun read for nature lovers everywhere. And it should be required reading for ecologists and conservationists."
– Merlin D. Tuttle, author of The Secret Lives of Bats
"With a bat and a flower, No Species Is an Island surprises us at every turn in the most amazing odyssey you'll read this year! You may be even more astonished to learn how you figure into the adventure."
– Bill Broyles, author of Last Water on the Devil's Highway
"No Species Is an Island is about the most important story on Earth: the astonishing interconnections that keep the living world alive. It reads like what it is: a beautifully illustrated detective story into the real world, in a particularly magical land of shadows where all the plants keep secrets and all the animals harbor hard-held mysteries. Dive in and savor."
– Carl Safina, author of Beyond Words