(p. C7) In 2004 Mr. Thomas, a biologist at the University of York, garnered headlines with a study predicting that at least a fifth of land animals and plants would be “committed to extinction” by 2050. In “Inheritors of the Earth,” Mr. Thomas does not disavow those findings. A mass extinction is in full swing, he concedes. But the “gloom-merchants” are ignoring the success stories, Mr. Thomas argues, of animals and plants that are thriving in the Anthropocene. Nature, in many respects, “is coping surprisingly well,” he writes, and we shouldn’t ignore “the gain side of the great biological equation of life.”
In some corners of the planet, warmer, wetter conditions have allowed a greater variety of species to survive than would have just decades ago, he points out, while modern transport keeps new immigrants rolling in. The result is a greater number of species in many regions–more local biodiversity–even if the global picture may be trending toward less.
Many species that contribute to diverse and functioning ecosystems aren’t native–they did not evolve where they now occur. And introduced species can jump-start evolutionary processes. They compete with established species, prey on them, or breed with them, and they can occupy ecological niches once occupied by organisms that have died out or are faring poorly.
Mr. Thomas describes a honeysuckle in Pennsylvania that’s a hybrid of species from several remote continents, and yet delicious to local flies, which began to interbreed out of a shared love of its berries; there’s a deer with Japanese genes that’s doing just fine in Scotland’s woods. We should be cheering on these victors, he says, but instead many have been subjected to dubious campaigns to eradicate them.
Conservation usually aims to help the most imperiled species, and favors those with a longer claim to the habitats they occupy. But rather than “always try to defend the losers,” Mr. Thomas proposes, what if we embraced the dynamism of evolution and let the winners go on winning?
For the full review, see:
Jennie Erin Smith. “Picking Sides in the Fight for Survival.” The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Sept. 23, 2017): C7.
(Note: the online version of the review has the date Sept. 22, 2017.)
The book under review, is:
Thomas, Chris D. Inheritors of the Earth: How Nature Is Thriving in an Age of Extinction. New York: PublicAffairs, 2017.