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Tuesday, 28 September 2021

Book Review - How Birds Evolve - Princeton University Press

 


     Douglas J. Futuyma has done a fabulous job reducing complex science to readily understandable prose, making precise mathematical concepts accessible to those less statistically inclined, or ill-equipped by training to engage in analysis. In so doing he delivers exactly what the subtitle to the book promises, "What Science Reveals About Their Origin, Lives and Diversity."
     I can attest, based on many years of leading bird walks, that so many birders, perhaps even the majority, shy away from anything other than the pleasure and thrill of the birds themselves. It is good to bask in their beauty, marvel at their ability to fly, stand in awe of their migrations - but there is much more!
     Who has not wondered why some species lay but one egg every two years and others eight or nine eggs in a single brood? Intuitively one would surmise that there is a practical advantage to one system over another for a given species, but what might that be? Is it possible to quantify the benefits based on lifestyle, food availability, longevity and other factors, so that precise models may be formulated based on firm data, removed from the realm of speculation? What is an "ideal" clutch size for a given species? How can that be proven? Why do some pairs attempt second broods and others not? How has the accumulated science of decades, centuries even, enabled us to arrive at the point where we can reliably explain the incredible diversity of plumages, lifestyles, feeding and breeding strategies, form, longevity and other aspects of the lives of birds.
     What about gene flow and inheritance? How does this affect existing populations? How will it affect various species in the face of climate change, habitat loss, polluted land and water? What trends are already manifesting themselves, and how will avian plasticity respond? We know, based on landmark studies such as those conducted by Peter and Rosemary Grant with Galapagos finches that evolution can happen over the course of a few generations, based primarily on food availability and the morphological response of birds to it. Are such trends present now, or likely to manifest themselves in the near future, in other species? Computer modelling can tell us much about such possibilities.
     It is common knowledge that ornamentation in birds, especially males in most species, is critical to mating success. Any birder worth his binoculars will tell you that. But don't dare ask why! Is there a point to which excessive grandeur in plumage becomes a disadvantage and how is that measured? Why is sexual fidelity a hallmark of the behaviour of some species and rampant promiscuity the norm in others? 
     All of these topics and so much more are covered in this wonderful book. You will even acquire a rudimentary understanding of DNA!
     The text is based on birds, a much-studied organism, but many of its principles apply equally to all of the myriad life forms on our planet. Is it really too late for us to pull back from the brink?
     It is perhaps a tad hyperbolic to say that any book should be considered essential reading, but this one comes close to it. For layman and biologist alike there is so much to reflect on. 
      Give up your Starbucks coffee for a month, I say, and use the money to buy a copy of this work. It is a decision you will not regret.

How Birds Evolve - What Science Reveals About Their Origin, Lives & Diversity
Author: Douglas J. Futuyma
US$29.95, £25.00
ISBN: 9780691182629
320 pages - 6.12 x 9.25 inches (15.3 x 23.125 cm)
48 colours plates and 67 black-and-white illustrations, 4 tables
Publishing dates:  USA - 19 October 2021
                              UK   - 14 December 2021 
       


35 comments:

  1. Thank you.
    There is always sooooo much to learn, and soooo many intriguing paths to wander down in search of that knowledge.

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  2. This does sound like a very interesting and informative book.

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  3. This sounds fascinating. I think I need this book.

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  4. This sounds like a good read. Thanks for reviewing it.

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  5. I am extremely fond of the little wrens. Even some misguided person telling me the male of the species tended clutches with several females has not dissuaded me.

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  6. As you know we don't have Starbucks here thank goodness and if we did I wouldn't purchases coffee from there..
    Seems like an interesting read with your review of it.

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    1. I too do not patronize Starbucks, but when I see the stream of vehicles at their drive though it seems that everyone else does! I need to remember, however, that someone gave me a $20 gift certificate and it is in the glove compartment of my car. From what I have heard of their prices that might buy me a coffee and a muffin!

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  7. Hello David,

    It sounds like a very informative book. I think the evolution of birds and animals are very interesting to read about.
    Many hugs, Marit

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  8. This sounds like a very interesting book, thanks for the great review. Have wonderful day, hugs, Valerie

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  9. Big questions when one comes to think about evolution - and the answers are no less. It sounds like a good book.

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  10. Hi David - sounds so interesting ... I'd love to read - and perhaps I will in a while. There's so much for us to learn and appreciate - which can lead to absorbing more knowledge. Wonderful review - thank you - cheers Hilary

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  11. Il a l'air intéressant ce livre.
    Bonne journée

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  12. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  13. Surely the book has answers to the interesting questions in the presentation.

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  14. This sounds like a great book. And I liked your final comment, about how one can afford to buy it. :-)

    When you get a chance, can you please look at the photos in this post of mine? I saw a group of American Robins in my yard, and several were all missing their back neck feathers. I'm assuming they were molting, but it seemed odd that several seemed to be at identical stages. Thanks.

    https://annescreativecornucopia.blogspot.com/2021/09/american-robin-back-neck-feathers.html

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  15. So much details and information in a good book. You have posted a very informative review. I always admire how author(s) gather so much information and then select only the best needed for a good book without going South.

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  16. Gran reseña amigo mío. Tiene que ser un libro sumamente interesante y además, con muchas respuestas a ciertas preguntas.
    Gracias por compartir.
    Un gran abrazo compadre y amigo David.

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  17. Sounds like a fascinating read. Interestingly, bird diversity has links to human happiness and their comings and goings are great indicators of the differing environments we all share.

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  18. Sounds like an excellent read. Thanks for the wonderful review, David.

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  19. Querido David muchas gracias por dejarnos siempre libros maravillosos y con muy buena información. Un enorme abrazo para ti y para Miriam. BESOS.

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  20. Looks like a very interesting book, David. Do you think it would be good reading for those of us in the Pacific?

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  21. seems to be an interesting book. :)

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  22. I've never been in a Starbucks!

    This does sound an excellent book, appreciated your review, thank you.

    All the best Jan

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  23. Sounds like an interesting book.
    I once read "If a Lion could talk" and the author stated animals cannot think. How dumb. We´re all "animals".
    And I really wonder how comes ravens in Germany are like really boring whilst the ones in Australia really "talk". They are so cute. Like observing what we do and telling their pals about it!
    (Like we were having lunch with friends and the boy kept talking and talking - forgot to eat. It was like "hey dudes, there will be left over food here, soon!" :-)

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  24. Thanks for the review and the questions you present are ones that probably have crossed my mind. Sounds like the book covers those topics quite well. I've used up my Starbuck's gift card, too.

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  25. A fine review of a book I might otherwise have passed by as quickly as I pass by any Starbuck's establishment.

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  26. Sounds interesting. I do not drink coffee and we have no Starbucks around here, but I still might look into investing into this. Hope all is well Diane

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  27. Hi David, beautiful book. Thank you for the review.

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  28. You've certainly asked a lot of questions, which, admittedly, I haven't thought about. I appreciate your posts which make us (me) think a little deeper.

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    1. If I have made you think, Amy, that satisfies me tremendously.

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  29. Otro libro que me encantaría tener, me parece muy interesante. abrazos.

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