Thursday, June 6, 2024

Review of The Diversity of Life by Edward O. Wilson

This book review was written by Eugene Kernes   

Book can be found in: 
Genre = Science
Book Club Event = Book List (08/31/2024)
Intriguing Connections = 1) Earth's Flora and Fauna, 2) The Evolution of Evolution

Watch Short Review


“Every species on Earth has been adapted by thousands to millions of years of evolution to the particularities of the environment in which it lives.  Its genotype is different from that of all other species.  The traits its genes prescribe are also unique, in biochemistry, anatomy, physiology, and behavior, and in the way it interacts with other species and serves the ecosystem it inhabits.  Each species, in short, is a living encyclopedia of how to survive on planet Earth.” – Edward O. Wilson, Preface to the 2010 Printing, Page xi-xii

“Great biological diversity takes long stretches of geological time and the accumulation of large reservoirs of unique genes.  The richest ecosystems build slowly, over millions of years.  It is further true that by chance alone only a few new species are poised to move into novel adaptive zones, to create something spectacular and stretch the limits of diversity.” – Edward O. Wilson, Chapter 5: New Species, Page 74

“Every country has three forms of wealth: material, cultural, and biological.  The first two we understand well because they are the substance of our everyday lives.  The essence of the biodiversity problem is that biological wealth is taken much less seriously.  This is a major strategic error, one that will be increasingly regretted as time passes.  Diversity is a potential source of immense untapped material wealth in the form of food, medicine, and amenities.  The fauna and flora are also part of a country’s heritage, the product of millions of years of evolution centered on that time and place and hence as much a reason for national concern as the particularities of language and culture.” – Edward O. Wilson, Chapter 14: Resolution, Page 311


Is This An Overview?

Each species is a unique representation of the ability to survive on the planet.  Unique biology, behavior, interaction with other species, and its impact on the ecosystem.  Biological diversity begins with slight adaptations to environmental niches within a species.  Adaptations that start as small divergences, from which hybrids are possible.  But the differences often grow, leading to reproductive isolation between the populations.  Origin of species is an evolution of differences that prevent hybrids. 


Diverse species are less vulnerable to environmental shocks as an end to a single species can be overcome by another taking over the niche.  Each species is precious as other species can depend on it, directly or indirectly.  Some species are keystone species, as their removal would cause drastic changes to the ecosystem.  Biodiversity needs expansive geographic distribution for an appropriate nutrient cycle.  Limited geographic distribution makes diversity vulnerable. 


Although there have been mass extinction events before, humans are responsible for latest mass extinction, in part, by taking over more land.  The problem with the extinctions are the costs to material wealth.  Biodiversity contains biological wealth in the form of nutrition, medicine, and amenities.  By removing biodiversity, humans are removing sources of undiscovered wealth.  With time diversity can come back, but at times scales that lack meaning for contemporary humans. 



The book is about diversity.  Much of the book consists of showcasing diverse species.  But each species does not get much information.  To understand more about each species would require more research.  The descriptions of the diverse species can be a distraction away from the systematic analysis of diversity.  

Questions to Consider while Reading the Book

•What is the raison d’etre of the book?  For what purpose did the author write the book?  Why do people read this book?
•What are some limitations of the book?
•To whom would you suggest this book?
•What are the different levels of biological organization? 
•How many species are still to be discovered? 
•What makes diversity vulnerable?
•How can an ecosystem erode?
•How can an ecosystem become restored? 
•What happened in Krakatau? 
•How can different species get to new locations?  Locations that are far?
•How many and what are the historic extinction era?
•What caused the fall of the dinosaurs? 
•Will diversity recover from massive extinction events? 
•What is the biomass distribution of the food hierarchy? 
•What creates reproductive isolation?
•What is vertical evolution?
•What is speciation evolution? 
•What causes species to adapt? 
•What are genes? 
•What is adaptive radiation?
•What is evolutionary convergence? 
•Why are there shark attacks on humans? 
•What are the origins of many South American mammals? 
•What can increase the chances of a species survival? 
•What are keystone species?
•How do predators effect an ecosystem?
•How does solar energy affect biomass?
•How does geography effect biomass?
•What are general features of a diverse species? 
•What is the area affect? 
•Why are there different outcomes in inbreeding and ordinary haphazard mating? 
•Why do people cut down trees? 
•What are sources of wealth?
•Is there material wealth in biodiversity? 

Book Details

Edition:                  First Harvard University Press paperback edition
Publisher:               The Belknap Press [Harvard University Press]
Edition ISBN:         9780674058170
Pages to read:          353
Publication:             20
1st Edition:              199210
Format:                    Paperback 

Ratings out of 5:
Readability    4
Content          3
Overall          3