Steve's Herpetological Blog

An insight into the life of Steve, his research and the many books he reads

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#StevesLibrary: Inheritors of the Earth

I am fortunate to have met the author of Inheritors of the Earth, Chris D. Thomas a few months again when he presented the DICE Annual Lecture at my home institution, the University of Kent. In his talk, he summarised a number of themes that are mentioned in detail him Inheritors of the Earth, I therefore decided to buy a copy and see what the fuss was all about. As I’m sure you’re very much aware, humans have dominated the planet since the invention of agriculture and civilisation. A report by the WWF published in 2018 has shown that since the 1970’s half of all of the world’s wildlife populations have halved.

As Thomas’ book goes, it is a bright light in a dim future casting hope for conservationists in the Anthropocene. We’ve irreversibly altered the face of the planet and have been doing so for thousands of years. It’s only since the time of the Industrial Age has this been at such a high pace and of a measurable level. However not ever argument that Thomas makes is watertight. For example he would have us believe that a number of islands have become more biodiverse due to the introduction of invasive species. Technically this is true, but invasive species and native species are rarely given the same value, so much so that conservationists in New Zealand are very adept at trapping and killing invasive species (a point Thomas acknowledges).

Yes net biodiversity has been increased, but the ‘value’ of those introduced species are far less in terms of their genetic diversity. It is also true as Thomas points out that species marooned on islands will evolve in different ways to their mainland cousins and may go down the path of speciation such as Darwin’s finches. That is if they can survive that long and don’t end up eating all of the species they depend on for food into extinction. As you can tell, I have a few problems with the book but there are a few areas where I agree.

In the closing chapters of the book, Thomas talks about moving species around to prevent them from going extinct. This is already taking place, the distribution of a species is modelled and animals are reintroduced to the most ideal locations. Thomas takes this to a new level by suggesting we create artificial communities in areas far outside of their natural range in a bid to save their genetic diversity and to prevent the animals or plants from slipping away before our eyes. Again, this view is highly contentious but it seems to have worked some some species (if you’ll read the book you’ll be given a few examples). Despite the ongoing destruction of the earth, there is still hope!

I would highly recommend this book to anyone working in conservation as it does provide some hope and can really help to change your viewpoint on your actions. You may love it, you may hate it but if history has taught us anything with most contentious books it just takes a little while to sink in.

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