Nature All Around Us: A Guide to Urban Ecology

February 28, 2013

Editors: Beatrix Beisner, Christian Messier and Luc-Alain Giraldeau
Translator: Beatrix Beisner
Edition: First
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Pages: 160
Price: £11.50
ISBN: 97802269251

For the first time in the history of our species, the majority of humans now reside in towns and cities. Consequently, the other organisms with which most of us share our everyday lives are also urbanites. Like us, our feral neighbours have evolved under very different conditions, often in far-flung corners of our planet, and have been brought together by historical accident to produce a new, vibrant, dynamic ecosystem. In spite of this, the ecological processes that govern how these species interact with each other and their environment are exactly the same as those found in the most remote wilderness.

Nature All Around Us is an easily digestible guide to urban ecology, with multiple examples drawn from the plant, animal and fungal kingdoms. Each relatively short chapter has been written by a different specialist and assembled to produce a short, easy-to-dip-into book that should - it is hoped - introduce, delight and educate city dwellers interested in the fascinating lives of their neighbours. That the book was originally written in French, by French-Canadian ecologists, could have been cause for concern. You might worry that the examples used would be unknown to a British readership but this proves not to be an issue. Most of the species described (such as squirrels, pigeons, sparrows and gulls) are also found in our towns, and the text shows little evidence of being a translation. In fact, it may be easier to follow because of the translation process, which has produced a text free from unnecessary jargon.

The chapters illustrate different ecological processes, such as decomposition, predator-prey cycles, population regulation and the niche concept. Overall, the book proves to be a fully rounded introduction to the science of ecology, and one that draws you in with interesting examples from everyday life. The concepts are not trivial and several complex theories are explained with admirable simplicity within a few short paragraphs. Each section ends with a text box containing an interesting fact to underline the point of the section, a mind experiment or, in some cases, a real experiment for the reader to attempt.

If I have one criticism, it is that Nature All Around Us uses the urban to illustrate the workings of more natural systems. In doing so, it rather misses the opportunity to explore new ecologies. The urban environment is where new species are evolving. As species from around the world are being thrown together for the first time, their hybrid offspring are tested by Darwinian forces that select the adapted or those lucky enough to thrive in these alien environments. Globally, species are becoming extinct at rates faster than ever before but in our towns and cities the reverse may be true, and here is an opportunity to delight in this development.

Who is it for?
A general readership with an interest in science and the wider world.

Presentation:
Surprisingly clear, given that it has been translated.

Would you recommend it?
It is definitely a book I enjoyed reading and I have recommended it to friends.

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