SpruceRoots Magazine - September/October 2000

Song of the Dodo - Island Biogeography in an Age of Extinction
by David Quammen
Simon & Schuster (Scribner)
New York, NY
ISBN 0-684-80083-7

David Quammen's The Song of the Dodo, the result of ten years of research and travel, presents an extrordinary account of species' origins, distribution and extinctions on islands and island-like landscapes.

A colourful tour through rain forests, rivers, national parks and clearcuts, this captivating read launches off with evolutionists Charles Darwin and Alfred Wallace and continues through the last century priming readers for the contemporary quandaries of rare and endangered species and the unprecedented loss of global habitat.

Accompanied by a grand cast of characters, including famous scientists, Madagascar's lemurs and the outrageous Komodo dragon, Quammen skillfully marries complex issues of species and survival with beauty and humour; a combination which promises to keep pages turning.

Quotes from the book.
"Within a few decades, if present trends continue, we'll be losing a lot of everything. As we extinguish a large portion of the planet's biological diversity, we will loose a large portion of the earth's beauty, complexity, intellectual interest, spiritual depth and ecological health." (pg. 607)

Uncertainties and the example of a white footed ferret population - 80 white footed ferrets:

"They live as resident predators within two separate prairie dog colonies, one on a gentle plateau and one beside a river. Comes a catastrophic flood, a once-in-a-century event, unpredictable and unavoidable. It covers your riverside colony and drowns every animal. You still have forty other ferrets on the plateau, but two droughts and then a tough winter reduce that number to twenty. Suddenly you're worried. And you should be. Several of the remaining females, for lack of other options, breed with their sons. Several males breed with their sisters. As a result of inbreeding, some of the offspring are born sterile, and as those animals reach adulthood the overall birth rates goes down. Other offspring of incestuous matings are born without resistance to a bacterial disease; that disease hits the colony, and it kills them. Still others, also victims of inbreeding depression, are born with a general lack of vigor. Nothing is specifically wrong with these ferrets, nothing you can point to, but they don't have the robustness of a heterozygous individual. Another harsh winter, and they die. Now you're down to seven ferrets, and by the sorry breaks of the game only two of your seven are female. One female is too old to give birth. The other female produces a litter of five healthy young, then a coyote eats her. The five young are all males. Final tally? You have eleven white footed ferrets, consisting of ten males and an elderly female. Your species is history. Take a picture and kiss it goodbye." (pge. 519)

SpruceRoots Magazine - September/October 2000