OATs 2020: Flora & Fauna

This week's sneak peek from our 2020 Outstanding Academic Titles list: Books about insects, birds, animals and plants.

This week’s sneak peek from our 2020 Outstanding Academic Titles list: Books about insects, birds, animals and plants.

1. Zoo studies: a new humanities
ed. by Tracy McDonald and Daniel Vandersommers McGill-Queen’s, 2019

McDonald (McMaster Univ., Ontario) and Vandersommers (Ball State Univ.) provide a provocative collection of contributed essays that connect the zoo as place and institution to historical events and social meaning. Organized chronologically, the volume begins with essays looking at historical situations and institutions: menageries, mental hospitals, and scientific experimentation. Next are discussions of representation and valuing of animals based on cuteness (anthropomorphism) or political symbolism. Lastly, the very structures of zoos–the ways we hold animals as captives in confinement–are questioned and challenged in forward-looking chapters speculating on the future of human-animal relationships. In addition to historical and current case studies, some chapters explore a novel concept of “animal biography” by focusing on the agency and perspectives of the captive animals themselves. This text is flexible in application: it can provide a series of introductory case studies or can engage advanced philosophical, historical, or sociological concepts in an upper-division or graduate curriculum
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2. Handbook of the mammals of the world: v.9: Bats
ed. by Don E. Wilson and Russell A. Mittermeier Lynx Edicions, 2019

Bats are probably the most misunderstood mammals, especially around Halloween. They are also arguably the most exceptional of mammals because they are able to fly and use echolocation. Furthermore, they are incredibly diverse. Chiroptera is the second most speciose mammalian order after Rodentia, comprising about one quarter of all living mammalian species, and bats live on every continent except Antarctica. Wilson (Smithsonian Institution) and Mittermeier (Global Wildlife Conservation) have produced yet another spectacularly illustrated book, the ninth and last volume in this series, which began in 2009 with the volume on Carnivora (CH, Apr’10, 47-4168). For this volume, 52 authors reviewed 21 families, 230 genera, and 1,401 species. The book begins with Wilson’s introduction. The subsequent chapters include family and species accounts, with sections on systematics, morphology, habitat, habits, communication, feeding, breeding, home range, social organization, relationship with humans, and conservation. Species accounts also include sections on distribution, description, and activity patterns. View on Amazon

3. Tree story: the history of the world written in rings
Trouet, Valerie. Johns Hopkins, 2020

This work portrays an interesting method of looking at history as revealed by the science of dendrochronology, the study of growth rings in trees. The text unfolds as a narrative, based on the author’s own personal history. Trouet (Univ. of Arizona) describes her career in the scholarly world, from her beginnings as a young student in Belgium up to her success as a US academic, where she is currently a faculty member of the renowned Tree-Ring Lab in Arizona, literally the home of her chosen discipline. Trouet’s research has taken her to many countries on various continents to examine patterns in the trees found in each environment and explore what their rings reveal about the climactic and biological changes that may have taken place there in the remote past. Often Trouet has been accompanied by students/colleagues, and her account of trips to locales ranging from deserts to high mountain ranges is both substantive and entertaining. The rings themselves can play their own role in geopolitics, as shown by Trouet’s observations on climate change and the debate over a perceived dismal future.
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4. Spiders of the world: a natural history
Platnick, Norman I. ed. by Norman I. Platnick with Gustavo Hormiga et al Princeton, 2020

About 48,000 species of spiders (order: Araneae) belonging to about 115 families and 4,000 genera have been identified so far. Ubiquitous in terrestrial habitats on all continents except Antarctica, spiders are important carnivores, especially of insects, a characteristic that helps maintain the balance of nature, often forestalling incipient epidemics. Despite spiders’ crucial role in natural and managed systems, scientific investigation of the group has been limited. This is likely due to failure to link new knowledge with actions that would improve access to human-valued resources (food, fiber, and medical products). This taxonomically arranged text by Platnik (emer., American Museum of Natural History, recently deceased) emphasizes the distribution, habitat, and distinguishing characteristics of spiders and discusses the morphology, evolution, biology, and behavior of select taxa. Excellent color photographic illustrations of individuals occur throughout, and scanning electron microscope imagery and informative line drawings depict differentiating features of higher taxa. Photographic clarity of even tiny adults (less than 1mm) reveals a level of ecological interest that has not been vigorously explored.
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5The flying zoo: birds, parasites, and the world they share
Stock, Michael. University of Alberta Press, 2019

Books on parasitology are not for the squeamish, and this book is no exception. Stock (MacEwan Univ., Edmonton) provides a fascinating glimpse into birds, their parasites, their mutual impact on one another, and the role of environmental characteristics on the relationship. Chapters cover primary types of avian parasites: lice, fleas, ticks, mites, flies, worms, and “oddities,” such as moths, leeches, and bedbugs. What makes this book rich is the author’s use of his examples illustrating types of birds and their parasites to explore larger issues such as coevolution, the role of ecology in the bird-parasite relationship, how birds as hosts have an influence on parasite morphology and behavior, the impact parasites have on bird behavior and reproductive fitness, and birds’ use of antiparasitic chemicals obtained from plants or ants. The final chapter addresses the role and impact that environmental changes—both naturally occurring and anthropogenic—have on bird-parasite relationships. Illustrations, references, a list for further reading, and an index add to the impact.
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