7-minute read keywords: parasitology, popular science
For many people, parasites top the list of nature’s most unwanted creatures. For biologists, however, they offer a window into the ecology and evolution of their hosts, while a full understanding of an ecosystem needs to take its parasite fauna into account. Parasites: The Inside Story offers an engrossing and well-illustrated introduction to some of these processes. However, the brevity of the chapters and the input from three authors does turn this into a bit of a medley that might leave readers wanting more.
To successfully navigate their world, organisms rely on numerous senses. Birds are no exception to this; and yet, for a long time, people have been convinced that birds cannot smell. This came as a surprise to evolutionary biologist Danielle J. Whittaker. Given that smell is effectively chemoreception (the sensing of chemical gradients in your environment) and was one of the first senses to evolve, why would birds have no use for it? The Secret Perfume of Birds tells the story of 15 years spent investigating the olfactory capabilities of birds and provides an insider’s account of scientific research.
7-minute read keywords: climate change, ecology, popular science
If you had asked me last week how animals and plants will respond to climate change, I probably would have told you that they are expected to move towards the poles, shifting their home ranges as temperatures rise. This is indeed one possible response, but the challenges and opportunities for organisms are far more diverse and unpredictable. Biologist Thor Hanson has previously written much-praised books on feathers, seeds, and bees. Here, he gives a well-structured and terribly interesting whistle-stop tour of the nascent field of climate change biology and some of the fascinating research that is underway.
It has to be one of the more delightful details of the natural world: the ecosystem of an ant’s nest is home to its own constellation of creatures that specialise in living within or nearby it. Daniel Kronauer’s book Army Ants first drew my attention to these so-called myrmecophiles and their sometimes bizarre adaptations. I was stoked when Harvard University Press announced it would publish a monograph focusing on just this aspect of ant biology, authored by entomology professors Bert Hölldobler (a frequent co-author to E.O. Wilson) and Christina L. Kwapich. The Guests of Ants gives a beautifully illustrated, wide-ranging, and critical literature review of this delightful corner of myrmecology. Will ants make it to my personal top 5 for a third-year running? This book is a very strong contender.
4-minute read keywords: paleontology, popular science
When it comes to popular science books, some of the books I admire most are the smallest ones. It takes great skill to capture the essence of a subject into a short book, steer clear of well-trodden ground, and contribute something novel that will educate and enthuse your reader. Palaeontologist and science communicator Dean Lomax here collects ten short essays on dinosaurs, convincingly showing that good things come in small packages.
Given my academic background, I often overlook the fact that fossils are not just objects of scientific study, but also sought-after collectables. While the previously reviewed Trilobite! by Richard Fortey focused on the former aspect, Andy Secher’s Travels with Trilobites combines an enthusiastic insider’s perspective of the world of trilobite collectors with photography of his extensive collection. This, then, is the second of a two-part dive into the world of that most enigmatic extinct creature: the trilobite.
In preparation for Andy Secher’s new book Travels with Trilobites I decided to first reach back in time to read Richard Fortey’s 1999 book Trilobite! as a warm-up exercise. Why? For no other reason than that Fortey’s autobiography A Curious Boy impressed me so much that I bought several of his earlier books and I need an excuse to read them. This, then, is the first of a two-part dive into the world of that most enigmatic extinct creature: the trilobite.
This is the second of a two-part dive into the world of pterosaurs, following on from my review of Mark Witton’s 2013 book Pterosaurs. Almost a decade later, the well-known independent palaeontologist and palaeoartist Gregory S. Paul has written and illustrated The Princeton Field Guide to Pterosaurs. Admittedly, a field guide to extinct creatures sounds contradictory. Really, this is an illustrated guide for the palaeo-enthusiast in which Paul’s signature skeletal reconstructions take centre stage.
The downside of starting a review blog is that certain books will have missed the cut, having been published sometime before you started. And with the constant churn of exciting new titles, it is hard to make time for them. Sometimes a new book on a certain topic is just the prompt you need though. Thus, with Princeton University Press having recently published Gregory S. Paul’s The Princeton Field Guide to Pterosaurs, I decided to finally take Mark Witton’s 2013 book Pterosaurs off the shelf and read them back-to-back. This, then, is the first of a two-part dive into the world of these extinct flying reptiles.