Biodiversity Conservation: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions)

Image of Biodiversity Conservation: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions)
Release Date: 
October 27, 2023
Oxford University Press
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“MacDonald’s book gives newcomers a comprehensive overview to a complicated topic . . .”

Author and scientist David Macdonald accepted no easy challenge: condense an enormous topic, one with international impact, and fill with scientific, ethical, and economic questions, into a pocket-sized book of less than 200 pages, including species lists, references, and recommended reading. By and large, Biodiversity Conservation: A Very Short Introduction exceeds that challenge.

This little book is enormous in real world examples of scientific concepts from adaptive radiation (how from one species can come many, finely tuned new ones) to the paradoxical ways that changes in ecosystems can have unexpected impacts on humans and wildlife both. Wolf populations in Wisconsin, for example, boomed under Endangered Species Act protections, only to crash when hunting restrictions were lifted. Yet deer-vehicle collisions occurred far less often when a robust wolf population was present to kill deer or scare them away from roads (which wolves use for ease of movement).

Not surprisingly, as Macdonald examines the “Big 5” drivers of biodiversity loss (including invasive species, the wildlife trade, wildlife disease, and of course climate change), he pays particular attention to human-wildlife conflicts, which are as much (or more) about us as them. Ethical questions are given their due, and refreshingly, Macdonald details psychological and sociological research into conflict mediation that offer ways of building human support for wildlife that hunt livestock or in other ways claim space alongside human communities. Also explored are economic models that answer what are arguably the most important biodiversity questions: Who pays for keeping our world filled with wildlife, and how?

Restoration strategies round out the book, from assisted colonization, the ecological replacement of species (tarpin and aurochs disappeared from the British landscape thousands of years ago but can free-roaming horses and pigs mimic their grazing and rootling to stimulate growth of flora?), and the more recent concept of rewilding landscapes (but to an idealized past or a functional present?).

This full spectrum thinking enriches an arguably dry book. Perhaps because it covers too many topics in too few pages, Biodiversity Conservation is laden with acronyms of international conferences, treaties, and organizations, and in any given chapter, Macdonald will summarize studies about turtle doves on British farmlands only to pivot to lions in Nambia, with many species and countries in between.

Despite this, Biodiversity Conservation: A Very Short Introduction earns its place in Oxford University Press’ Very Short Introduction series. MacDonald’s book gives newcomers a comprehensive overview to a complicated topic. More experienced readers, meanwhile, will benefit from valuable, real-world, and interdisciplinary information that moves us past the tragedy of biodiversity loss to complicated yet realistic ways of keeping our world alive and beautiful.