New: Book Report: Out of Eden (an Odyssey of Ecological Invasion)

(or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Invading Species)

This is a fun book on a serious subject. Alan Burdick traveled the world, talking to scientists about invading species. Sometimes people bring plants and animals from one place to another, and next thing you know, cane toads overrun Australia.

But it's not so easy to get a handle on invading species. People have been traveling longer than they've been studying biology. So someone in Puget Sound might think that some species of slug is native to the area--since it's in all of the local literature about animals found locally. But someone at the mouth of the Hooghly river might think that same slug is local to their neighborhood for the same reason. Back in the 1700s, some ship picked up a slug as a hitchhiker and took that slug from point A to point B. But which where was that slug originally from? Which was point A and which was point B?

This book looks at the Brown Tree Snake which ate most of Guam's birds. It looks at the pigs of Hawaii. You hear about introduced pigs in Polynesian climes causing destruction--I heard about this when I was in New Zealand. But people were very ready to blame pigs on very little evidence. This book shows you some scientists who are now measuring the impact of pigs on an ecosystem.

Burdick also visited some biologists in the San Francisco Bay Area. It turns out that San Francisco Bay may be the most invaded water system in the world. We've done a good job of bringing in ship traffic, its ballast bursting with life. We've done a good job of keeping the bay clean--compared to other harbors. So critters that show up here have an OK chance of not being poisoned. When you swim in the bay, you swim through a cosmopolitan soup of foreign diatoms, invertebrates, and stranger things.

In theory, this is dry reading material. In practice, I enjoyed reading this book. I recommend giving it a whirl.

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Posted 2006-06-01