The idea of a balance of nature has been a dominant part of Western philosophy since before Aristotle, and it persists in the public imagination and even among some ecologists today. In this lively and thought-provoking book, John Kricher demonstrates that nature in fact is not in balance, nor has it ever been at any stage in Earth's history. He explains how and why this notion of a natural world in balance has endured for so long, and he shows why, in these times of extraordinary human influence on the planet's ecosystems, it is critical that we accept and understand that evolution is a fact of life, and that ecology is far more dynamic than we ever imagined.
The Balance of Nature traces the fascinating history of the science of ecology and evolutionary biology, from the discipline's early innovators to the advent of Darwin and evolution, to the brilliant and inquisitive scientific minds of today. Blending insights and entertaining stories from his own remarkable life in science, Kricher reveals how evolution is a powerful engine that drives ecological change, how nature is constantly in flux and, in effect, quite naturally out of balance--and how notions to the contrary are misguided and ultimately hazardous to us all.
The Balance of Nature forcefully argues that an understanding of the dynamic nature of ecology and evolution is essential to formulating policies of environmental ethics to guide humanity toward a more responsible stewardship of our planet's ecosystems.
Preface ix CHAPTER 1: Why It Matters 1 CHAPTER 2: Of What Purpose Are Mosquitoes? 8 CHAPTER 3: Creating Paradigms 20 CHAPTER 4: Ecology B.C. ("Before Charles") 40 CHAPTER 5: Ecology A.D. ("After Darwin") 53 CHAPTER 6: The Twentieth Century: Ecology Comes of Age 67 CHAPTER 7: A Visit to Bodie: Ecological Space and Time 84 CHAPTER 8: Ecology and Evolution: Process and Paradigm 97 CHAPTER 9: Be Glad to Be an Earthling 113 CHAPTER 10: Life Plays the Lottery 128 CHAPTER 11: Why Global Climate Is Like New England Weather 140 CHAPTER 12: Taking It from the Top--or the Bottom 155 CHAPTER 13: F or the Love of Biodiversity (and Stable Ecosystems?) 170 CHAPTER 14: Facing Marley's Ghost 186 Epilogue 203 Acknowledgments 207 Notes 209 Index 229
John Kricher is the A. Howard Meneely Professor of Biology at Wheaton College. His books include "Galapagos: A Natural History" and "A Neotropical Companion" (both Princeton).
The author conveys his message in a clear writing style without using highly technical concepts or terminology. -- . "Shmaefsky, Choice Kricher's book is of interest to environmental historians and historians of science not only on account of the information it contains, but also because within it there is so little of the scholarship of the history of the environmental sciences with which we, in the humanities and social sciences, are familiar. -- Jane Carruthers, Environment and History With The Balance of Nature, John Kricher has done us the favor of producing the book our non-ecological parents should read. In a scant 200 pages of accessible prose, Kricher weaves together three themes about which any literate citizen should be aware... The Balance of Nature hits its mark. Buy a copy for your parents, your students, and your children today. -- Aaron M. Ellison, Ecology