Jan. 19th, 2017

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Dave Goulson "A Buzz In The Meadow" (Vintage)

Dave Goulson is a fine natural history writer, and an important conservationist. His work centers around the less glorious taxa, the insects that underlie the world’s ecosystems yet receive less attention. He has a talent for expressing scientific results, when too often the findings are confined to a bubble where only people specializing in a certain field will read and understand the results. Books like “A Buzz in the Meadow” are needed if you feel you don’t know enough about large groups of life forms like plants and insects. However, if you don’t like thinking about insect parts and reproduction (or that of animals in general), know that this is not for everyone. Still, Goulson is a very good communicator, and this is an excellent book.

At the beginning of each chapter, he gives the date, amount of time he spent running, number of humans seen (usually none), number of dogs (usually more than one) and number of butterfly species and any interesting notes to accompany them. Often a literary quote follows, to precede the chapter. He saves footnotes for the end of the chapter, which I think makes for smoother reading. For North American readers, we have to keep in mind that Europe has different sets of species, diverged from the common ancestors of those over here, in similar ecological niches. Even a naturalist like Goulson was unable to pinpoint the “wack-wack” bird, one of two prominent unidentified creatures in the meadow.

Many stories come from previous research he conducted or supervised, relating to the species now seeing in the meadow. Campions are his example for male and female ratios (also humans have the same thing going on, more or less), and there is a cool study of handedness or its analogue in insects, as well as learned behavior – and the chlorophyll-less yellow rattle. He mentions the soot of the Industrial Revolution that caused a moth’s two color morphs to drift in favor of the dark one as opposed to the pale one that stood out. House flies in hen houses also serve as an example of evolution in action, reminiscent of Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” – which is especially relevant in a later chapter on neonicotinoids, and the science and struggle to show their effects short- and long-term. Island biogeography and metapopulations again see bees (and butterflies) as examples, but this isn’t an information dump – each story helps demonstrate a process that can be observed scientifically. Reading this book also gives a good feel for the many sides of scientific publishing.

The last chapter is the least about the meadow but the most about conservation, to which Goulson is already dedicated. Not depressing or preachy, it stays informative.

I recommend it.


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