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Note: This article is from Conservation Magazine, the precursor to Anthropocene Magazine. The full 14-year Conservation Magazine archive is now available here.

On the Bookshelf, Spring 2002

July 29, 2002

Responding to Bioprospecting: From Biodiversity in the South to Medicines in the North
Edited by Hanne Svarstad and Shivcharn S. Dhillion
Spartacus Forlag AS, 2000

High levels of biodiversity combined with indigenous knowledge of medicinal plants in the tropics have attracted a new breed of prospectors hunting potential pharmaceutical treasures. Bioprospecting has been seen as everything from a good source of sustainable income benefiting local conservation to the piracy of knowledge and an incentive for overharvesting of resources. The editors of this book, avoiding the pitfalls of advocacy, present a wide range of essays reflecting many aspects of this activity and the varied ways countries and cultures in the “South” are responding, as well as several pieces from the bioprospector’s viewpoint. As with any compilation, the readability of individual pieces varies; however, the breadth of focus and the range of material from practical, legal, and scientific examples to philosophic and ethical discussions provides an excellent introduction to the issue. Many conservation practitioners in the “North” would be well advised to read further on this subject as bioprospecting issues are not limited to the tropics, and this book provides a good starting point.

Wildlife Responses to Climate Change: North American Case Studies
Edited by Stephen H. Schneider and Terry L. Root
Island Press, 2002

“It was not long ago that the big question about climate change was whether or not it was actually taking place. Now, there is broad scientific consensus that it is, in fact, happening and that human activities are largely to blame.” In 1997, the National Wildlife Federation provided fellowships to eight outstanding graduate students to study the impacts of global climate change on U.S. ecosystems and wildlife species. This book is the culmination of that three-year project. Each chapter takes on an aspect of the effects of climate change. For example, one chapter explores ways in which local and regional climate variables affect butterfly populations and habitat ranges. Another looks at how variations in ocean temperatures have affected intertidal marine species. And another addresses how climate change may increase the susceptibility of ecosystems to invasions of non-native species. The real value of the book lies not so much in the data—although it is does highlight some interesting trends—but in the compilation of key scientific questions that confront conservationists as our climate changes.

The New Economy of Nature: The Quest to Make Conservation Profitable
By Gretchen C. Daily and Katherine Ellison
Island Press, 2002

“Although we’ve engineered a financial system so sophisticated as to include market values for feng shui masters and interest rate derivatives, we’ve not yet managed to establish them for such vital everyday services as water purification and flood protection.” The challenge that this book takes on is measuring, capturing, and protecting these values before they are lost. The result is an engaging, very readable volume that will stretch your thinking—perhaps in unexpected ways. For example, Adam Davis, an American business executive, dreams of establishing a market for buying and selling “ecosystem service units”; John Wamsley, a former math professor in Australia found a way to play the stock market and protect native species at the same time; and Dan Janzen, a biologist working in Costa Rica, devised a plan to sell a conservation area’s natural waste disposal services to a local orange juice producer. These are just some of the portraits of pioneers through which the authors present a fundamentally new way of thinking about the environment and the economy.

On Biocultural Diversity: Linking Language, Knowledge, and the Environment
Edited by Luisa Maffi
Smithsonian Institution Press, 2001

Up to 11 percent of an estimated 6,000 spoken languages in the world today are “nearly extinct,” and as many as 90 percent of those languages may vanish during the course of this century. On Biocultural Diversity brings together an interdisciplinary group of scholars from the social and natural sciences as well as cultural advocates, human rights specialists, and indigenous experts to discuss the ways in which the losses of biological, linguistic, and cultural diversity are linked. Chapters, written by different individuals, draw on case studies from Africa, Asia, Oceania, and the Americas. While the dense academic prose of some chapters may deter readers, other chapters are provocative and highly readable. For example, in the chapter, “Cultural Perceptions of Ecological Interactions,” Gary Nabhan convincingly shows how indigenous knowledge of threatened species could offer Western-trained scientists and managers testable hypotheses and new conservation strategies. As a whole, the book will broaden and deepen your perspective—beyond the traditional bounds of conservation biology.

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