Saturday, January 19, 2013

The Kingdom of Rarities

The Kingdom of Rarities by Eric Dinerstein
Island Press, 1/17/2013
Hardcover, 336 pages
ISBN-13: 9781610911955 
In The Kingdom of Rarities, scientist Eric Dinerstein poses an intriguing question: What if the way we categorized the living world was reshuffled for a moment, from a system designed to inform us about evolutionary relationships among species to one with two camps based on abundance: the Kingdom of Common species and the Kingdom of Rarities? What new observations and connections would emerge?

The Kingdom of Rarities explores that idea, building a narrative around the concept of rarity and its implications both for our understanding of how the natural world works, and for what it can teach us about protecting biodiversity during a time of large-scale environmental change.
Dinerstein highlights cutting-edge science from remote outposts around the world, focusing on some of the key questions that scientists are asking themselves right now:
What are the rarest species?
Why are rare species most likely to be found in certain types of environments?
Which species have always been rare, and which have only recently been made rare?
Which species or places are most in need of saving?
As well as a scientific journey, The Kingdom of Rarities is also an adventure story—to meet the rare species that are central to this tale, the reader travels with the author to exotic locations including remote New Guinea, Hawaii, the heart of the Amazon, and the foothills of the Himalayas.
Throughout, Dinerstein explores rarity as a central principle within conservation biology. Looking through this lens not only advances our understanding of the natural world but also inspires the creation of new tools and technologies that can help us both add to our knowledge base and design more effective conservation strategies. He focuses on real-time threats to biodiversity, from climate change to habitat fragmentation, and draws on his long and distinguished scientific career to illuminate the concept of rarity for readers across the spectrum of scientific knowledge.

My Thoughts:
In The Kingdom of Rarities, Eric Dinerstein explores rare species and asks some interesting questions, including: Why are so many species rare? Have they always been rare, and, if not, what causes or environmental changes have contributed to rarity? What be done to save rare species? Dinerstein asks “Why, wherever you land, do you always find a few superabundant species and a multitude of rare ones?”  While rare species are found everywhere, we really know very little about why this is the case. Are all these rare species are on the brink of extinction or have there always been rare species?
Dinerstein says, "To understand rarity in nature, whether as an artist or a biologist, one of the best places to look is in the tropical belt. The Amazon and Congo basins, Southeast Asia including Sumatra (Indonesia), and New Guinea are the four largest expanses of rain forest; along with some smaller regions, they hold more than 60 percent of the world’s known species—crammed into less than 5 percent of Earth’s surface." 
"The island of New Guinea is especially interesting to biologists because so many of its species are found nowhere else." This is especially true of the Foja Mountains in the heart of Papua Province. The Kingdom of Rarities covers Dinerstein's travels, as well as the travels of others, across the world, considering various rare species.
Some of the rarities Dinerstein explores include Birds of paradise, the golden fronted bowerbird, the orange faced honey-eater, the Juan Fernández firecrown hummingbird on an island called Más a Tierra, (Robinson Crusoe Island), Kirtland’s warbler, rhinoceroses, including the greater one-horned rhino, and, in South America, jaguars and pumas, the giant anteater, giant armadillo, and maned wolf.

Factors discussed that influence rarity are extreme habitat specialization, an isolated population (especially if this isolation is geographic), and a changing environment due to outside factors introduced, such as agriculture. “Wholesale conversion of land [to agriculture] not only threatens to make no small number of common species rare through human activity, it also threatens the very existence of what is now rare.”
Eric Dinerstein is Chief Scientist with the World Wildlife Fund, where he has spent the past 24 years working to save rare species globally. Certainly this gives him the insight and experience to consider the question of rarities across the world. Dinerstein does a superb job discussing the questions in a manner that will capture the attention of a lay person as well as a professional. He includes illustrations, maps, annotated bibliography, and index. The Kingdom of Rarities is a fascinating, entertaining, thought provoking book.
Very Highly Recommended
Disclosure: My advanced reading copy Kindle edition was courtesy of  Island Press and Netgalley for review purposes.

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