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I'm looking for a collection, in print or online, of pictures of ancient extinct species (i.e., imagined from fossil remains). Is there a good single resource for this? I'm interested in animals of all kinds, barring dinosaurs, and invertebrates. I'm not interested in recently extinct species but rather the very distant past.
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Extinction art: artists are confronting us with the world as it is, was and could be.
THIRTY YEARS after Andy Warhol made a series of silkscreen prints to raise awareness of endangered species, evidence of an ongoing sixth mass-extinction event grows. Each year, Canada's list of species at risk gets longer. A blogger at Scientific American offers an extinction countdown. Scientists provide alarming accounts and warn about "defaunation in the Anthropocence"--the elimination of wildlife from an age dominated by humans.
But scientific warnings haven't stemmed the collapse of biodiversity. Nor have well-meaning laws. Can artists open our eyes to what we are losing?
Animals were the first subjects of art, in cave paintings more than 32,000 years ago. Real and imagined creatures figure prominently in art history. Art and conservation have long been close companions: John James Audubon discovered 25 new bird species on the way to setting a new standard for wildlife illustration. Taxidermy artist Carl Akeley pioneered diorama displays for natural history museums and helped establish Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to protect mountain gorillas.
Artists continue to stand as society's conscience and critics. They disrupt our complacency and broadcast calls for change. Increasingly, they are reflecting the disappearance of the animal world. Take the pangolin, the improbable mascot of last fall's Extinction Marathon at the Serpentine Gallery. You may never have heard of the only fully scaly mammal--the "walking pine cone," the "artichoke with legs and a tail"--but the pangolin may be the most trafficked animal in the world. And despite an international convention prohibiting trade in endangered species, it is on the way to being eaten to extinction.
Artists are acting as agents provocateurs, forcing us to confront our kinship with other animals, to acknowledge how we are diminishing them, and to see the world as it is, was and could be. This is particularly evident in exhibitions and works like Maya Lin's online project What is Missing?, the Here Today exhibit, which debuted in London, England, in November 2014 the Musee d'art contemporain de Montreal's ZOO MASS MoCA's Eclipse the New York-based Canary Project and the five far-flung sculptures of Todd McGrain's Lost Bird Project. Many use historical ecology to remind us how abundant the planet used to be. Some tell "lively stories about extinction," as Thom Van Dooren, an anthropologist in the new field of extinction studies, exhorts us all to do.
Here, in prints, paintings, sculptures, photographs, video, textiles, multimedia installations and soundscapes, are some glimpses into art about species extinction.
In 1983, art dealers Ronald and Frayda Feldman commissioned Andy Warhol, one of the 20th century's most influential artists, to address this ecological crisis. He produced silkscreen prints of 10 endangered species: a bald eagle, black rhino, African elephant, bighorn ram, giant panda, Grevy's zebra, orangutan, Pine Barrens tree frog, Siberian tiger and San Francisco silverspot. In his trademark style, the prints turn the animals into celebrities on par with Elizabeth Taylor and Marilyn Monroe. In 2014, a set of the 10 prints sold for $485,000 (US) at a Sotheby's auction.
Thirty years later, all but two of these "animals in makeup," as Warhol called them, are more endangered than ever. The bald eagle, America's emblematic predator, was removed from the US Endangered Species list in 2007, and the Pine Barrens tree frog was upgraded to "near threatened" in 1996.
At last count, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Endangered Species included more than 4,500 species of mammals, birds and amphibians on nature's equivalent of death row. Last year, to mark the list's 50" anniversary, works from 50 artists transformed the Old Sorting House in London, England, into the massive exhibition Here Today. The show invited viewers to consider a response other than "gone tomorrow" and to start saying "Here today, here tomorrow."
The IUCN exhibition poster was a riff on Warhol. London-based conceptual artist Gavin Turk produced a new silkscreen print for the show, in which he coloured a black and white giant panda red, emphasizing its presence on the Red List. There are fewer than 2,500 mature giant pandas in the wild. Wallpaper of Turk's "Pandy Warhol" filled one room of the show. Print sale proceeds were donated to the IUCN and to Turk's other favoured charity, the House of Fairy Tales.
Turk said he had tried to make the print as humourous as he could. "Pandas are showstoppers. If you have a panda in a zoo, for instance, that's national news if it gets pregnant. So then because I really wanted to make sure everybody was aware of the Warhol connection, l just thought we should call it Pandy Warhol" he said in an interview with Absolutely Magazines.
Julia Marton-Lefevre, director general of the IUCN, opened the Here Today show. "During my eight years at IUCN," she said in an email, "I constantly worked on involving people who were not insiders to the conservation world, so of course having the interest and contribution of artists is great. The loss of biodiversity is a serious threat to the ecological balance on our small planet, and getting people to think about this and to take action to respect and save species is essential. I particularly liked the fact that, while the title suggested the usual adage of 'Here today--Gone tomorrow,' in fact the exhibit offered solutions, and while its messages were strong, the overall tone was positive and had a 'can-do' attitude."
Continuing to reinvent the art of the memorial, Maya Lin says is her final work in this genre. The celebrated artist and architect is best known for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, but has also memorialized the American Civil Rights Movement for the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Alabama, and created the Women's Table for Yale University. She says her latest work is not really about extinct species: "We can't do anything about that," she said in an interview with Yale Environment 360 when the project began in 2012. Rather, it's about what we can do to stop the diminishment of the natural world.
Instead of a single statue or canvas to commemorate an event, What is Missing? is a multipart work-in-progress designed to jolt us into awareness of the life disappearing around us.
Its centrepiece is a multimedia website of maps, stories and videos that invites visitors through "wormholes" to see the past, the present and in some cases the future of the natural world and its vanishing animals. The images open slowly, on constellations of moving, flickering dots that form into the shapes of animals as words read, "What is Missing? One in five mammals. One in three amphibians. One in eight birds . " As we read, "Human alteration of their habitat is the single biggest cause," the dots take shape as the world's continents. But this is just an elegant introduction. Roll your mouse over any dot, and the real story emerges.
"For instance, if you clicked on Manhattan, it would jump up and form 50 dots," Lin told Yale Environment 360. "I call those wormholes." Viewers can follow these wormholes to travel back in time to those places. "And so we went for the earliest written accounts, from the Dutch settlers, where they found that lobsters were six feet long [about two metres], oysters were twelve inches in diameter. And as you follow, say, the Manhattan wormhole, as you get further and further along, the rivers degrade, the abundance of wildlife disappears." Lin calls on citizens from around the world to share on the site their own experiences of what is missing.
Related physical works that integrate sound and natural materials have been installed at scientific institutions such as the California Academy of Sciences and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Animal voices emanate from a Listening Cone of bronze and reclaimed redwood at the California Academy. Her Sound Ring at Cornell--eight speakers hidden within a sustainably harvested and sculpted walnut oval--broadcasts the sounds of woodcocks, loons, lemurs and Weddell seals.
"But then there is an arc of hope," Lin adds. She goes further than many artists by explicitly calling attention to successful environmental laws: "The [1970s] come, the Clean Air Act happens, the Clean Water Act. And all of a sudden in present day, you get seals returning to the harbor, nature comes back. Where would we be in this country [the United States] if we didn't have the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act?"
J.B. MacKinnon and the Museum of Vancouver Species loss is at the core of J.B. MacKinnon's work, the inspiration for the Museum of Vancouver's Rewilding Vancouver show in 2014. The collaboration between MacKinnon and the museum reimagined the city as it is, was and could be.
MacKinnon's book The Once and Future World is a lament for what he calls the "10-percent world"--the world depleted of more than 90 percent of its natural richness, a diminished world that we now accept as normal.
The exhibit recreated Vancouver's historic diversity and abundance of life and projected a vision of a "rewilded" city. There bears roamed the entrance to the Lions Gate Bridge, salmon swam in a daylit stream in the heart of a residential neighbourhood, and whales breached in the harbour. A video streamed real-life footage of the grey whale that swam into False Creek in 2010, drawing throngs of citizens to the shorefront to catch a glimpse, later commemorated with a new poem by Brad Cran: Thirteen tVoys of Looking at a Gray Whale, After Wallace Stevens and ending with a line from Rilke.
Extinction was represented by a life-sized, 7.6-metre papiermache representation of a Steller's sea cow, which hung from the museum's ceiling. These massive "cows," weighing up to 3,600 kg, were hunted to extinction in less than 30 years between their first discovery in 1741 and last known sighting in 1768. Named after naturalist Georg Wilhelm Steller, a crew member on Captain Vitus Bering's expeditions to map the coast of Alaska for the Russian czar, the sea cow was a geographically apt addition to the show.
The exhibit's bold proposals to rewild Vancouver have met with some success already: In 2014, the city unveiled the Rewilding Vancouver action plan. In the foreword to the plan, MacKinnon points to the next hundred years as the "age of rewilding. No longer will we settle for saving the last wild spaces or species from extinction. Instead, we will work to bring nature back to exuberant life, everywhere."
Susannah Sayler and Edward Morris Martha, the last passenger pigeon, died just over 100 years ago. The centenary catalyzed more than 50 exhibitions. Martha's death was a watershed moment for extinction, says artist Susannah Sayler, and marked the last of a species that once made up roughly a quarter of all birds in North America.
Motivated by writer Elizabeth Kolbert's compelling narratives to produce visual work of equal impact, Sayler and Edward Morris created the installation Eclipse as an act of commemoration for the passenger pigeon. Eclipse was showing at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA) until October 2015. Its title comes from John James Audubon's account of watching the passage of a single flock of passenger pigeons for three straight days, the birds so dense in the sky that they "obscured the light of the noonday sun as by an eclipse."
Accounts say that seeing and hearing such flocks was an experience powerful enough to cause children to scream, horses to bolt, and grown men and women to drop to their knees to pray. To try to recreate that experience, the artists filled a skinny, three-story-high lightwell at MASS MoCA with reverse silhouettes, in white, of about a quarter-million animated pigeons that appear and reappear in a seven-minute video projected on a series of screens.
A white outline of a black elm tree shines at the end of a blackened room. A flock approaches. The rumble and beating of wings grows louder. The branches of the tree flutter, then shake under the weight of the birds. Birds rise, like ashes flying up in the sky after a fire. The shaft of a beam of light over the tree grows thicker with the flock of birds. The tree becomes swollen with birds and is eclipsed as the flock grows. The peak passes. The birds stream out, with a few left to fly up off the skeletal branches of the denuded tree. One bird remains, and then it too disappears.
Sayler and Morris's work is unabashedly activist. They've been devoted to deepening public understanding of the Anthropocene for over a decade. Their A History of the Future documented climate-change scientists working in landscapes across the globe. They've put photos on the sides of buses, mass-produced Green Patriot posters and marked high-water lines to show people where the water will come up to when sea levels rise. Feeling the "need to shout," they formed The Canary Project, a collaboration between artists, designers, writers, educators and scientists. Eclipse marks their first foray into extinction art. They're now working on reimagining the Fossil Hall at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History to shed a stronger light on extinction and the Anthropocene.
Sayler senses a change in public opinion about climate in the last year. "People are freaking out because the weather has been so weird. It seems like it's no longer possible to be a climate denier in the US." She takes heart from Abraham Lincoln's dictum that "Public sentiment is everything. With public sentiment, nothing can fail. Without it, nothing can succeed."
Birds fascinate Todd McGrain. A sculptor with the enviable job of artist-in-residence at the Cornell Ornithology Lab, McGrain has devoted the last 10 years to creating five larger-than-life bronze sculptures of extinct birds. His Lost Bird Project has placed each sculpture to mark the spot where their original's last known specimen was seen. His Great Auk, a gawky flightless bird hunted to extinction for its feathers, meat, fat and oil, now guards an entrance to remote Fogo Island in Newfoundland and Labrador.
McGrain chose the site as the closest inhabited one to Funk Island, once the site of the greatest feather-rendering plant in North America. There, the birds were boiled in their thousands so that their valuable down could be plucked the bodies were discarded. The location took some detective work. Other records peg Eldey Island, in Iceland, as the place where the last pair of great auks were killed. A tip from a Newfoundland fisher led McGrain to an historic marker recording the death of the last bird in 1888 (44 years after the Icelandic pair died) on Fogo Island itself. An old newspaper stored in the provincial archives confirmed the event.
Fishers on Fogo Island use poems to navigate through shallow waters. McGrain was honoured to learn from locals that the poem used to navigate through Joe Batt's Arm was changed to recognize the new Great Auk sculpture--a testament, he feels, to how the bird has been reborn in the island's lore.
"Extinct species tell us to pay attention," McGrain says. Memorializing lost species has become the driving force in his life, and he has started a non-profit organization called Bellwether to connect people more deeply with the Earth through art. Though he finds it hard to be optimistic, he believes in strong laws and that people are out ahead of the laws. The Migratory Birds Convention Act of 1917, one of Canada's oldest conservation laws, came too late to save the great auk.
Inspired by the Cornell Lab's Elephant Listening Project, McGrain is currently producing a documentary film about forest elephants, which are being decimated by poaching for bush meat and tusks. He hopes there will not be a forest elephant sculpture in his future, too.
Kitty Blandy is a Vancouver-based artist whose work expresses a common thread of the physical sympathy that we humans have with the "animal." By "sympathy," she means the sharing of another's sensation and condition. She's motivated by the idea of animalism as a form of sensuality, and the view that humans are mere animals or as she and others might have it, "animals are merely human."
She drew this orangutan at the Natural History Museum in London, taken by the threadbare stuffed animal specimen exhibited in a hall on the way to the dinosaur room.
"The orangutan, in this instance, plays as a reflection of humanity's narcissistic synthesis of ourfellow creatures, examining ourselves and others through our sympathy with them," she says. "The threat of extinction magnifies not only our terror for animal kind, but of our own mortality."
Both the Sumatran and the Borneo orangutan are listed as endangered on the lUCN's Red List.
Sara Angelucci makes the haunting hybrid images in her 2013 series Aviary by combining her photographs of endangered or extinct birds from the Royal Ontario Museum's ornithology collection with anonymous 19*century cartes-de-visite portraits. Collecting stuffed specimens of birds and collecting photographs were both popular activities in Victorian culture, and the images seemed like kindred spirits to Angelucci. The idea for the hybrid images came, she says, as she was looking at one of the ROM's Eskimo Curlew specimens. The moment caused "something to break inside. It's such an exquisite creature and looked so delicate and vulnerable."
Angelucci exhibited two of the Aviary portraits as an artist-in-residence at the Art Gallery of Ontario. Companion work included a performance of a mourning chorus, in which a cappella singers explored the disappearing sounds of North American songbirds in the historic setting of women's public mourning rituals. She also organized a panel discussion, "Arts and Ideas: A bird's eye view on art and extinction."
Angelucci wonders what would it mean to embody another creature "Could one then see, feel and understand its desire to live?" she asks. "Might we then imagine the Aviary portraits as chimera suspended in a state of empathy, and wonder what our treatment of other sentient beings might be if we could feel what they feel, or see what they see?"
Active beyond her art, Angelucci attended a Fatal Light Awareness Program event at which the bodies of over 1,800 migratory birds that had collided with buildings in the space of one year were on display at the ROM. "We mourn when we lose people, but not species, and that needs to change, " says Angelucci.
Listed as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List, polar bears rely on sea ice as a platform on which to hunt and mate, and each year must swim longer distances as the ice recedes. The record for the longest polar bear swim in open water is 687 kilometres.
Last year, Fredericton artist Janice Wright Cheney commemorated one of these bears In her textile sculpture Spectre. An ephemeral vision of the bear is composed of crocheted snowflakes, stiffened by salt, interspersed with crystals and suspended from an armature. It's a specific tribute to Buddy, a polar bear adopted by an RCMP officer that became the star attraction of the zoo once housed at the Banff Park Museum. The zoo was meant to show viewers a live version of each stuffed animal still displayed inside the museum. Cheney calls the Banff exhibits "a time capsule from the 1930s, packed full of glass vitrines of taxidermist specimens."
During a residency at the museum, Cheney spoke at the Creature (Dis)Comforts workshop about the portrayal of animals in Canadian art and the unreality of zoos. She cited a passage from Pauline Wakeham's book Taxidermic Signs, a quote from Susan Willis, which she says resonates deeply with her: "Zoo animals are body doubles, stand-ins for the real animals existing (or becoming extinct) elsewhere. Visit a zoo and you walk through a living cemetery of all that is diminishing, disappearing and soon to be gone. Look at the animals they are living taxidermy."
Cheney is working on a new project, upholstering a taxidermy form of a cougar in black velvet to place in the forest in Fundy National Park. The work is rooted in local stories: Hundreds of people swear they have seen cougars in New Brunswick, despite a lack of scientifically confirmed sightings. Cheney says the work is about her longing for predators and their need for habitat, because "we all want the dangerous forest to still exist."
Frogs and other amphibians are also seemingly doomed: 41 percent of their species face extinction. According to amphibian biologist and artist Brandon Ballengee, since the IUCN released its Amphibian Conservation Action Plan In 2005, at least seven more frog species have died out.
Ballengee promotes ecological understanding through "transdisciplinary art and participatory biology," the title of his doctoral thesis. As a scientist, he engages citizen scientists to record the decline of frog species. As an artist, he produces work like Malamp: The Occurrence of Deformities in Amphibians, which consists of chemically cleaned and stained "reliquary" prints of terminally deformed frogs found in nature. Each print in the series is an original, so there is one reliquary for that animal in history. His research was conducted in polluted wetlands, where dragonfly nymphs have apparently become more voracious in biting off the developing hind limbs of tadpoles.
Recently in New York City, Ballengee unveiled Frameworks of Absence, a series of antique prints whose extinct animal subjects were meticulously excised. By cutting the animal out of the print, the glass of the frame reveals the species' absence. He then burnt the cut-out paper containing the image of the animal, and placed the ashes in a memorial urn that forms part of the piece.
Ballengee is an advocate for strong environmental laws, and gave expert evidence about the wildlife impacts of BP's Deepwater Horizon oil spill in a court case involving the company. His Ghosts of the Gulf print series and Collapse installation were on view until March 2015 at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, DC.
"I desire to the best of my abilities to help in any way possible to protect amphibians and other species from untimely extinction" says Ballengee.
These examples only scratch the surface of extinction art. Here are some other artists to seek out:
Mark Dion has worked for decades with this subject. His 1995 print of a dodo memorialized what's likely the world's best-known extinct species. His extinction series also includes 1989's Black Rhino with Head, a taxldermied rhinoceros head nestled in a shipping crate, and tableaus such as M. Cuvier Discovers Extinction, an installation starring Mickey Mouse who recites a text about extinction.
Celebrated artist Robert Bateman has been painting animals throughout his career, including many endangered species. He remains an activist for nature at the age of 85, recently taking the stage at a benefit concert for the David Suzuki Foundation.
Brian Jungen's cetacean skeletons--like Shapeshifter, made of white plastic lawn chairs--soar in art spaces, much as their bony counterparts hang suspended in the atriums and great rooms of natural history museums.
Exhibitions such as the 2009 Becoming Animal, Becoming Human/Animal Perspectives in Berlin the 2012 Animal Beauty at Paris's Grand Palais, which included a room on endangered species and the 2015 Rights of Nature--Art and Ecology in the Americas at Nottingham Contemporary in Nottingham, England, all took up the interaction between humans and endangered animals.
In the end, artists give shape to our deepest feelings, and help us see the world as it might be. As Lin says, "People care. I think they might be a little bit overwhelmed and they might feel helpless. Maybe art could pose the problems and look at solutions in a way that is funny at times, maybe a little abstracted at times, just look at it from a different point of view."
These Are the Extinct Animals We Can, and Should, Resurrect
Resurrecting extinct animals is both “exhilarating and terrifying,” says Beth Shapiro, an expert in ancient DNA and a biologist at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Exhilarating because of the unprecedented opportunities to understand life and boost conservation efforts, but terrifying in part for its ethical quandaries. In her recent book How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction, Shapiro builds on her vast experience studying ancient DNA (from woolly mammoths and bison to dodos and passenger pigeons) to offer a primer on the steps required and the questions to answer before species resurrection can become a reality. In a recent interview, we discussed the practicality of de-extinction, and the lighter sides of genetic tinkering.
From This Story
How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction
What extinct animal would you most like to bring back to life?
My answer changes every day. Because there are so many steps along the way to de-extinction, there is no particular species that is an ideal candidate for being brought back to life. The best choice would be an animal that could not only inspire people to be interested in science and technology but that also would have a net positive impact on the environment. In my mind, the mammoth is a great choice for both of these reasons.
Problematically, mammoth de-extinction would necessarily involve working with and manipulating female elephants. We would need elephant eggs, elephant maternal hosts and elephant surrogate families to raise the unextinct mammoths before releasing them into the wild. Before mammoth de-extinction proceeds beyond the first stages of sequencing and manipulating genomes, we need to know much more about how to perform these later steps in ways that are not harmful to elephants.
What extinct animal would be the most fun to bring back?
The dodo. It's very silly looking and has several really weird traits: It can't fly, it retains juvenile characteristics and—obviously—it had no particular fear of humans as predators. If the dodo were to be brought back, it could be restored to protected habitats on [the island nation of] Mauritius, where people could go to observe dodos in their native habitat.
What about the most dangerous?
I would be most afraid of the giant short-faced bear [which lived during the last glacial maximum, until about 11,000 years ago]. When the largest of these bears stood on his hind legs, he would have been nearly 12 feet tall. I wouldn't want to run into him in my backyard.
Not a dinosaur, like a Tyrannosaurus Rex?
It’s not possible. The limit of DNA survival, which we’d need for de-extinction, is probably around one million years or less. Dinosaurs had been gone for a very long time by then.
How long before de-extinction is a reality?
The answer depends on what you're willing to accept as "de-extinction." If you mean a pigeon born with some passenger pigeon traits, or an elephant born with mammoth-like traits, it could happen within a few years to a decade. Longer for mammoths, for the reasons I’ve already mentioned and because elephants have a two-year gestation period. If you mean 100-percent mammoth, with all mammoth genes and behaviors, that will never happen.
What’s the biggest misconception about de-extinction?
The biggest misconception is that we are creating clones. Cloning—the process of somatic cell nuclear transfer, which most famously brought us Dolly the Sheep—is a specific technology that requires cells that are harvested from a living individual. Instead of using this cloning technology, scientists who are working on mammoth de-extinction are using new molecular tools to edit the genomes of elephants so that some of their DNA sequences are changed to look like mammoth DNA sequences.
The result is not a clone but a hybrid: a cell that contains DNA that is mostly elephant, but a little bit mammoth. If that cell is then used to create an embryo and eventually an animal, the result will be a hybrid animal with DNA that is mostly elephant and a little bit mammoth.
Shapiro's new book examines the capacity of science to bring back extinct animals. (UC Santa Cruz)
Humans have long tinkered with life—what’s the most fascinating example?
Domestication, from dogs and cats to farm animals to the diversity of crop plants that we rely on for food, to bottle gourds that our ancestors domesticated to use as storage containers and floats for fishing boats. Humans have been tinkering with evolution and causing genetic changes for as long as 30,000 years, and we are remarkably good genetic engineers.
What about the most disturbing?
Hairless dogs. Apologies to anyone out there who thinks these creatures are wonderful, and to those who adore them for their anti-allergenic properties. But when I see a hairless dog, all I can think is that I should smear it in sunscreen or wrap it in a blanket.
What endangered animal would you most like to save from extinction?
Black and white rhinoceroses. Don't make me choose between these two. Both are critically endangered, and both could benefit from the same advances in genome engineering that are required to make de-extinction a reality.
At the end of last year, a northern white rhino that lived at the San Diego Zoo died, leaving only five other white rhinos alive [in the world]. Worse, only one of these living northern white rhinos is male, meaning that there is little chance that any more northern white rhinos will ever be born. Even if this male were able to impregnate one of the remaining four females (and this seems unlikely given past failures), the resulting population would have very little genetic diversity. This small population would likely suffer from high levels of inbreeding, which would make it more susceptible to diseases and less able to adapt to a changing climate.
How could de-extinction technology help? If we could sequence the genomes of rhinos that lived in large and genetically diverse populations—rhinos whose bones and skin might be preserved in museum collections, for example—we could identify genetic diversity that has been lost in rhino populations because of the recent declines. Then, we could use genome-editing technologies to re-engineer that lost diversity into living rhino populations.
How will the relationship between humans and nature change in the next century?
As human populations grow, it is more and more of a challenge to find places on our planet that have not been somehow influenced by human activity. If we are going to maintain a rich and biodiverse world, which I believe benefits us as much as the other species who live here, we are going to need to become more active in our approach to conservation. It will not be sufficient to set aside parks or wild spaces.
De-extinction may not be the answer to the biodiversity crisis that we are facing today, but the technologies that are being developed in the name of de-extinction may become powerful new tools in an active conservation regime. Why not provide populations a little bit of genomic assistance so they can survive in a world that is changing too quickly for natural evolutionary processes to keep up?
What do you think Darwin would say about de-extinction?
Upon hearing about de-extinction, he may say, "Why are you bothering with all of these recently extinct things? Let's bring back the ancestral bird that gave rise to of all the Galapagos finches. I have some hypotheses to test."
New depictions of ancient hominids aim to overcome artistic biases
New standards for reconstructing extinct hominids could lead to more accurate representations, such as this sculpture of a 2.8-million-year-old Australopithecus africanus youngster known as the Taung child.
G. Vinas, R.M. Campbell, M. Henneberg and R. Diogo
Depictions of extinct human ancestors and cousins are often more art than science.
Take, for example, two reconstructions of the Taung child, a 2.8-million-year-old Australopithecus africanus skull discovered in South Africa in 1924. One version, made using a sculptor’s intuition, appears more apelike. A second version, made while working alongside a scientist, appears more humanlike.
Now, the researchers that produced the dueling images are attempting to remove some of this subjectivity by introducing standards that may give more accurate and reproducible portraits of species known only from fossilized bone. The team points out some of the flaws in facial reconstructions of ancient hominids — and the social and ethical implications misleading portraits may have — in a report published February 26 in Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution.
These two reconstructions of the Taung child depend on subjective decisions to make it appear more apelike (left) or humanlike (right). G. Vinas, R.M. Campbell, M. Henneberg and R. Diogo
Getting the depictions right matters, says Rui Diogo, a biological anthropologist at Howard University in Washington, D.C. When museumgoers see artists’ renditions of Neandertals or extinct hominids, visitors often don’t realize how much bias creeps into the work. “They think it is reality,” he says. And that can skew people’s views and reinforce existing prejudices of present-day people.
For instance, reconstructions of multiple extinct hominids in the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., portray skin getting lighter and lighter in color as species became more and more bipedal. “But there is zero evidence to say the skin was whiter,” Diogo says. Such a depiction might give the mistaken impression that people with lighter skin are more evolved.
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Artists’ depictions can also give erroneous views of human evolution and extinct species’ intelligence and behavior, says Diogo’s coauthor Ryan Campbell, an anatomical scientist and physical anthropologist at the University of Adelaide in Australia. For instance, Neandertals are often portrayed as having matted, dirty hair. “It’s as if there is a bias toward portraying our ancestors as if they were stupid and didn’t have hygiene,” he says.
But animals of all kinds groom themselves, and there is no reason to think that Neandertals or other extinct hominids were any different. In fact, presenting reconstructions without hair might be more accurate, says Campbell. Hair is usually not preserved in fossils and DNA data from bones may hint at hair color, but don’t reveal grooming habits.
Accurate artistic depictions of extinct hominids begin with precise scans of skeletal findings, such as this digital scan of a cast made from the original Taung child skull fossil. G. Vinas, R.M. Campbell, M. Henneberg and R. Diogo
“Reconstructing hair is not even informed speculation,” Campbell says. “It’s imaginary speculation.”
Scientists and artists often work together to produce reconstructions, but the choices they make may be driven more by whim than science, the researchers contend. By studying muscles in the great apes and other nonhuman primates, Diogo and colleagues have constructed reference databases that scientists might use in reconstructing faces from fossils. Even then, whether a sculptor chooses chimpanzee or human muscles as their starting point can produce very different outcomes.
“The reconstructions of the past, most of them did not have a scientific basis,” Diogo says. “Our goal is to change the methods and to change the biases” to give a more accurate view of human evolution.
Questions or comments on this article? E-mail us at [email protected]
A version of this article appears in the April 24, 2021 issue of Science News.
The World Encyclopedia of Dinosaurs & Prehistoric Creatures
Over the last couple of decades, Dougal Dixon's lavishly illustrated World Encyclopedia of Dinosaurs has been sliced and diced by its publisher into numerous smaller and less comprehensive books, and the concept has been imitated ad infinitum by lesser writers using less striking illustrators. This is the edition to get, though, if you're looking for concise, crisply illustrated profiles of over 1,000 prehistoric animals, including birds, crocodiles, and megafauna mammals as well as dinosaurs both well-known and extremely obscure.
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Graphics by Michele Doying / The Verge
If humans disappeared from the face of the Earth, letting evolution run its course, what would animals look like in 50 million years? That was the premise of the book After Man: A Zoology of the Future, published in 1981 by paleontologist Dougal Dixon. Last month, Breakdown Press published a new edition of the book.
The mythological-looking creatures illustrated in the book seem to come out of a Tim Burton movie. There’s the rabbuck, a rabbit-like animal that has grown the size of a deer because it lives where there are no predators. Then, there’s the reedstilt — also called Harundopes virgatus — with a long, beaky snout and razor thin legs to snatch fish out of the water. And mountainous regions will be inhabited by the groath — also called Hebecephalus montanus — whose females have a pyramid-shaped horn on their heads to defend their young. Dixon clearly let his imagination ran wild, but also took the rules of evolution and adaptation into consideration when envisioning these new species.
When it came out, After Man was often portrayed in the media as a book about the extinction of humanity, Dixon writes in the new introduction. But that was a faulty interpretation, he says. The disappearance of people was just an excuse to talk about evolution: let nature go wild without humans meddling with it, and see what happens. “It’s not about the extinction of man, it’s not a doom-laden thing,” Dixon tells The Verge. “It’s showing that life goes on and it doesn’t matter how much damage we do. The Earth will survive and will be repopulated. It’s a note of positivity rather than a note of gloom.”
No matter how it was received, After Man inspired the field of so-called speculative biology, where the principles of evolution fuel the creation of imaginary creatures and monsters. With the new edition out, The Verge spoke with Dixon about where he got the idea for After Man, how he created the animals in it, and whether the book would look any different if he wrote it today.
The interview has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.
How did you get the idea for After Man?
It’s been something that had been brewing in my head for a long, long time. It’s going back to the 1960s. I was watching a television program with my father. That’s when the conservationists’ cry was “Save the Tiger!” My father said, “Why the save the tiger? If the tiger becomes extinct, something will evolve to take its place. That’s how evolution works.” And I thought at the time, that’s a very unconstructive attitude. As time went, studying biology, I realized that was actually the case. Things become extinct, other things evolve to take their place. So I used to think about what animal life might be like in the future. As a child, I was doing comic strips of strange beasts and so on. But then it died away for a bit.
It wasn’t until the mid 1970s that I met up with a friend of mine that I hadn’t seen for a long time and he was wearing a “Save the Whale” button. That sparked it all over again. Save the Whale? Why save the whale? If the whale becomes extinct, what could evolve to take its place? I thought, I can make a book about this. This is something we can use to talk about other natural processes of evolution in a totally novel way. There were plenty of popular level books on evolution going around at the time, but they were mostly books that looked toward the past — the dinosaurs, the development of the horse, and all that. It seemed to suggest that evolution is something that happened in the past and then stopped. That’s not the case. This way, by postulating theoretical things in the future, we can show evolution as a process that is ongoing.
How did you create all those creatures in the book? What was the process?
It was a matter of looking at the various natural environments and looking at what adapts particular animals for living in those environment. And if those particular animals died out, then whatever takes their place would have the same adaptations. Like, something living on a grassy plain. Nowadays, what do you get living on a grassy plain? You get antelopes, you get horses, things with long legs running away from enemies, and long necks so they can reach the grass, and very powerful chewing mechanisms so they can eat the grass, and usually long faces, so as they’re down eating the grass, their eyes are still quite high up and could look up for danger. So if antelopes and horses die out, whatever would evolve to take their place would have these same characteristics. That’s the sort of procedure that I used when trying to work out what was coming in the future.
What has changed in our understanding of evolution since the book was published?
The basic principles are still there, but we have access to a lot more details, especially at the cellular level, looking at DNA. That’s something I had no access to 30 years ago when I was putting all of this together. And of course, new fossil discoveries, new discoveries of animals that were living at the moment that were not known about at the time. Lots of [our understanding of] dinosaurs has changed. And that was the subject of my follow-up book, The New Dinosaurs. The speculation there was, if 65 million years ago, the meteorite had missed and the dinosaurs had continued to live and continued to evolve, what would they be like today? There I was talking about the concept of zoogeography: what animals live in what areas and what parts of the world, and why are they different from one another? It was like After Man. It was using fictitious examples to explain factual processes.
In the introduction to the new edition, you say that when you wrote After Man, you decided to ignore climate change as one of the drivers of evolution. Why is that?
I was presenting some very strange animals that looked very off and the reader might be a little bit put off by the sheer strangeness, but so I thought I could keep the background recognizable. So it was something to anchor it all. That’s a totally different approach from the one that we did with The Future is Wild. It was a television series about 10 years ago and I was involved in that as a consultant. It was the same sort of thing, looking at what animals might evolve in the future. But in The Future is Wild, the background was constantly changing all the time with new ice ages and new climate zones that don’t exist at the moment. It was quite a different approach.
In the introduction, you also say that “man, with his big feet and his big hands, has too much of an influence, twisting the course of nature away from anything that can be predicted.” How has humanity’s role changed in the past 30 plus years?
It’s an even more extreme version of what I was touching on there. But other aspects of it that I hadn’t appreciated at the time was the spread of mankind over continents has diminished our biodiversity a great deal. By taking rats on ships to various islands, the rats then devastate the ecology of those islands. In the 1980s, there were bigger issues, things like deforestation and monocultures, overfishing and overhunting. Those were the big obvious things that I was concentrating on at the time.
If you wrote this book today, would it look any different?
Probably not, because that’s all in there anyway. The big thing at the moment was getting rid of human beings so that the natural processes can get back to work and repair all the damage that’s been done and that’s still valid.
What do you hope readers get out of this book?
An actual appreciation of the wonders of evolution and of life in general. It is a book about life, about the wonders of life on Earth and how it’s a continuous process and not just something that has developed in the past to get us to where we are today.
A chief driver in the inception of paleoart as a distinct form of scientific illustration was the desire of both the public and of paleontologists to visualize the prehistory that fossils represented.  Mark Hallett, who coined the term "paleoart" in 1987, stressed the importance of the cooperative effort between artists, paleontologists and other specialists in gaining access to information for generating accurate, realistic restorations of extinct animals and their environments.  
Since paleontological knowledge and public perception of the field have changed dramatically since the earliest attempts at reconstructing prehistory, paleoart as a discipline has consequently changed over time as well. This has led to difficulties in creating a shared definition of the term. Given that the drive towards scientific accuracy has always been a salient feature of the discipline, some authors point out the importance of separating true paleoart from "paleoimagery", which is defined as a broader category of paleontology-influenced imagery that may include a variety of cultural and media depictions of prehistoric life in various manifestations, but does not necessarily include scientific accuracy as a recognized goal.  One attempt to separate these terms has defined paleoartists as artists who, "create original skeletal reconstructions and/or restorations of prehistoric animals, or restore fossil flora or invertebrates using acceptable and recognized procedures".  Others have pointed out that a definition of paleoart must include a degree of subjectivity, where an artist's style, preferences and opinions come into play along with the goal of accuracy.  The Society of Vertebrate Paleontology has offered the definition of paleoart as, "the scientific or naturalistic rendering of paleontological subject matter pertaining to vertebrate fossils",  a definition considered unacceptable by some for its exclusion of non-vertebrate subject matter.  Paleoartist Mark Witton defines paleoart in terms of three essential elements: 1) being bound by scientific data, 2) involving biologically-informed restoration to fill in missing data, and 3) relating to extinct organisms.  This definition explicitly rules out technical illustrations of fossil specimens from being considered paleoart, and requires the use of "reasoned extrapolation and informed speculation" to fill in these reconstructive gaps, thereby also explicitly ruling out artworks that actively go against known published data. These might be more accurately considered paleontologically-inspired art. 
In an attempt to establish a common definition of the term, Ansón and colleagues (2015) conducted an empirical survey of the international paleontological community with a questionnaire on various aspects of paleoart. 78% of the surveyed participants stated agreement with the importance of scientific accuracy in paleoart, and 87% of respondents recognized an increase in accuracy of paleoart over time. 
The production of paleoart requires by definition substantial reading of research and reference-gathering to ensure scientific credibility at the time of production.  Aims of paleoart range from communicating scientific knowledge to evoking emotion through fascination at nature.  The artist James Gurney, known for the Dinotopia series of fiction books, has described the interaction between scientists and artists as the artist being the eyes of the scientist, since his illustrations bring shape to the theories paleoart determines how the public perceives long extinct animals.  Apart from the goal of accuracy on its own, the intentions of the paleoartist may be manifold, and include the illustrating of specific scientific hypotheses, suggesting new hypotheses, or anticipating paleontological knowledge through illustration that can be later verified by fossil evidence.  Paleoart can even be used as a research methodology in itself, such as in the creation of scale models to estimate weight approximations and size proportions.  Paleoart is also frequently used as a tool for public outreach and education, including through the production and sale of paleontology-themed toys, books, movies, and other products. 
Scientific principles Edit
Although every artist's process will differ, Witton (2018) recommends a standard set of requirements to produce artwork that fits the definition. A basic understanding of the subject organism's place in time (geochronology) and space (paleobiogeography) is necessary for restorations of scenes or environments in paleoart.  Skeletal reference—not just the bones of vertebrate animals, but including any fossilized structures of soft tissue–such as lignified plant tissue and coral framework—is crucial for understanding the proportions, size and appearance of extinct organisms. Given that many fossil specimens are known from fragmentary material, an understanding of the organisms' ontogeny, functional morphology, and phylogeny may be required to create scientifically-rigorous paleoart by filling in restorative gaps parsimoniously. 
Several professional paleoartists recommend the consideration of contemporary animals in aiding accurate restorations, especially in cases where crucial details of pose, appearance and behavior are impossible to know from fossil material.   For example, most extinct animals' coloration and patterning are unknown from fossil evidence, but these can be plausibly restored in illustration based on known aspects of the animal's environment and behavior, as well as inference based on function such as thermoregulation, species recognition, and camouflage. 
Artistic principles Edit
In addition to a scientific understanding, paleoart incorporates a traditional approach to art, the use and development of style, medium, and subject matter that is unique to each artist.  The success of a piece of paleoart depends on its strength of composition as much as any other genre of artistry. Command of object placement, color, lighting, and shape can be indispensable to communicating a realistic depiction of prehistoric life.  Drawing skills also help form an important basis of effective paleoillustration, including an understanding of perspective, composition, command of a medium, and practice at life drawing.  Paleoart is unique in its compositional challenge in that its content must be imagined and inferred, as opposed to directly referenced, and, in many cases, this includes animal behavior and environment.  To this end, artists must keep in mind the mood and purpose of a composition in creating an effect piece of paleoart. 
Many artists and enthusiasts think of paleoart as having validity as art for its own sake. The incomplete nature of the fossil record, varying interpretations of what material exists, and the inability to observe behavior ensures that the illustration of dinosaurs has a speculative component. Therefore, a variety of factors other than science can influence paleontological illustrators, including the expectations of editors, curators, and commissioners, as well as long-standing assumptions about the nature of dinosaurs that may be repeated through generations of paleoart, regardless of accuracy. 
"Proto-paleoart" (pre-1800) Edit
While the word "paleoart" is relatively recent, the practice of restoring ancient life based on real fossil remains can be considered to have originated around the same time as paleontology.  However, art of extinct animals has existed long before Henry De la Beche's 1830 painting Duria Antiquior, which is sometimes credited as the first true paleontological artwork.  These older works include sketches, paintings and detailed anatomical restorations, though the relation of these works to observed fossil material is mostly speculative. For example, a Corinthian vase painted sometime between 560 and 540 BCE is thought by some researchers to bear a depiction of an observed fossil skull. This so-called "Monster of Troy", the beast fought by the mythological Greek hero Heracles, somewhat resembles the skull of the giraffid Samotherium.  Witton considered that because the painting has significant differences from the skull it is supposedly representing (lack of horns, sharp teeth), it should not necessarily be considered "proto-paleoart". Other scholars have suggested that ancient fossils inspired Grecian depictions of griffins, with the mythical chimera of lion and bird anatomy superficially resembling the beak, horns and quadrupedal body plan of the dinosaur Protoceratops. Similarly, authors have speculated that the huge, unified nasal opening in the skull of fossil mammoths could have inspired ancient artwork and stories of the one-eyed cyclops. However, these ideas have never been adequately substantiated, with existing evidence more parsimonious with established cultural interpretations of these mythical figures. 
The earliest definitive works of "proto-paleoart" that unambiguously depict the life appearance of fossil animals come from fifteenth and sixteenth century Europe. One such depiction is Ulrich Vogelsang's statue of a Lindwurm in Klagenfurt, Austria that dates to 1590. Writings from the time of its creation specifically identify the skull of Coelodonta antiquitatis, the woolly rhinoceros, as the basis for the head in the restoration. This skull had been found in a mine or gravel pit near Klagenfurt in 1335, and remains on display today. Despite its poor resemblance of the skull in question, the Lindwurm statue was thought to be almost certainly inspired by the find. 
The German textbook Mundus Subterraneus, authored by scholar Athanasius Kircher in 1678, features a number of illustrations of giant humans and dragons that may have been informed by fossil finds of the day, many of which came from quarries and caves. Some of these may have been the bones of large Pleistocene mammals common to these European caves. Others may have been based on far older fossils of plesiosaurs, which are thought to have informed a unique depiction of a dragon in this book that departs noticeably from the classically slender, serpentine dragon artwork of the era by having a barrel-like body and 'paddle-like' wings. According to some researchers, this dramatic departure from the typical dragon artwork of this time, which is thought to have been informed by the Lindwurm, likely reflects the arrival of a new source of information, such as a speculated discovery of plesiosaur fossils in quarries of the historic Swabia region of Bavaria.  
Eighteenth century skeletal reconstructions of the unicorn are thought to have been inspired by Ice Age mammoth and rhinoceros bones found in a cave near Quedlinburg, Germany in 1663. These artworks are of uncertain origin and may have been created by Otto von Guericke, the German naturalist who first described the "unicorn" remains in his writings, or Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, the author who published the image posthumously in 1749. This rendering represents the oldest known illustration of a fossil skeleton.  
Early scientific paleoart (1800–1890) Edit
The beginning of the 19th century saw the first paleontological artworks with an unambiguous scientific basis, and this emergence coincided with paleontology being seen as a distinct field of science. The French naturalist and professor Jean Hermann of Strasbourg, France, drafted what Witton describes as the "oldest known, incontrovertible" pieces of paleoart in 1800.  These sketches, based on the first known fossil skeleton of a pterosaur, depict Hermann's interpretation of the animal as a flying mammal with fur and large external ears. These ink drawings were relatively quick sketches accompanying his notes on the fossil and were likely never intended for publication, and their existence was only recently uncovered from correspondence between the artist and the French anatomist Baron Georges Cuvier. 
Similarly, private sketches of mammoth fossils drafted by Yakutsk merchant Roman Boltunov in 1805 were likely never intended for scientific publication, but their function—to communicate the life appearance of an animal whose tusks he had found in Siberia and was hoping to sell—nevertheless establishes it one of the first examples of paleoart by today's definition. Boltunov's sketches of the animal, which depicted it without a trunk and boar-like, raised enough scientific interest in the specimen that the drawings were later sent to St. Petersburg and eventually led to excavation and study of the rest of the specimen. 
Cuvier went on to produce skeletal restorations of extinct mammals of his own. Some of these included restorations with musculature layered atop them, which in the early 1820s could be considered the earliest examples of illustrations of animal tissue built up over fossil skeletons. As huge and detailed fossil restorations were at this point appearing in the same publications as these modest attempts at soft tissue restoration, historians have speculated whether this reflected shame and lack of interest in paleoart as being too speculative to have scientific value at the time.  One notable deviation from the Cuvier-like approach is seen in a cartoon drawn by geologist William Conybeare in 1822. This cartoon depicts paleontologist William Buckland entering the famous British Kirkdale Cave, known for its Ice Age mammal remains, amidst a scene of fossil hyenas restored in the flesh in the ancient cave interior, the first known artwork depicting an extinct animal restored in a rendition of an ancient environment.  A similar step forward depicts a dragon-like animal meant to represent the pterosaur Dimorphodon flying over a coastline by George Howman this 1829 watercolor painting was a fanciful piece that, albeit being not particularly scientific, was another very early attempt at restoring a fossil animal in a suitable habitat. 
In 1830, the first "fully realized" paleoart scene, depicting prehistoric animals in a realistic geological setting, was painted by British paleontologist Henry De la Beche. Dubbed Duria Antiquior — A more Ancient Dorset, this watercolor painting represents a scene from the Early Jurassic of Dorset, a fossil-rich region of the British Isles. This painting, based on fossil discoveries along the coast of Dorset by paleontologist Mary Anning, showcased realistic aspects of fossil animal appearance, behavior, and environment at a level of detail, realism and accuracy that was among the first of its kind.  This watercolor, an early illustration of paleoecology, shows plesiosaurs and ichthyosaurs swimming and foraging in a natural setting, and includes depictions of behavior of these marine reptiles that, while unknown, were inferences made by De la Beche based on the behavior of living animals. For example, one ichthyosaur is painted with its mouth open about to swallow the fish head-first, just as a predatory fish would swallow another.  Several of these animals are also depicted defecating, a theme that emerges in other works by De la Beche. For example, his 1829 lithograph called A Coprolitic Vision, perhaps inspired by Conybeare's Kirkdale Cave cartoon, again pokes fun at William Buckland by placing him at the mouth of a cave surrounded by defecating prehistoric animals. Several authors have remarked on De la Beche's apparent interest in fossilized feces, speculating that even the shape of the cave in this cartoon is reminiscent of the interior of an enormous digestive tract.  In any case, Duria Antiquior inspired many subsequent derivatives, one of which was produced by Nicholas Christian Hohe in 1831 titled Jura Formation. This piece, published by German paleontologist Georg August Goldfuss, was the first full paleoart scene to enter scientific publication, and was likely an introduction to other academics of the time to the potential of paleoart.  Goldfuss was the first to describe fur-like integument on a pterosaur, which was restored in his commissioned 1831 illustration based on his observation of the holotype specimen of Scaphognathus. This observation, which was rejected by scientists such as Hermann von Meyer, was later vindicated with certainty by 21st-century imaging technology, such as reflectance transformation imaging, used on this specimen. 
The role of art in disseminating paleontological knowledge took on a new salience as dinosaur illustration advanced alongside dinosaur paleontology in the mid-1800s. With only fragmentary fossil remains known at the time the term "dinosaur" was coined by Sir Richard Owen in 1841, the question of life appearance of dinosaurs captured the interest of scientist and public alike.  Because of the newness and the limitations of the fossil evidence available at the time, artists and scientists had no frame of reference to draw upon in understanding what dinosaurs looked like in life. For this reason, depictions of dinosaurs at the time were heavily based on living animals such as frogs, lizards, and kangaroos. One of the most famous examples, Iguanodon, was depicted as a resembling a huge iguana because the only known fossils of the dinosaur—the jaws and teeth—were thought to resemble those of the living lizard.  With Owen's help, Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins created the first life-size sculptures depicting dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals as he thought they may have appeared he is considered by some to be the first significant artist to apply his skills to the field of dinosaur paleontology.  Some of these models were initially created for the Great Exhibition of 1851, but 33 were eventually produced when the Crystal Palace was relocated to Sydenham, in South London. Owen famously hosted a dinner for 21 prominent men of science inside the hollow concrete Iguanodon on New Year's Eve 1853. However, in 1849, a few years before his death in 1852, Gideon Mantell had realized that Iguanodon, of which he was the discoverer, was not a heavy, pachyderm-like animal, as Owen was putting forward, but had slender forelimbs his death left him unable to participate in the creation of the Crystal Palace dinosaur sculptures, and so Owen's vision of dinosaurs became that seen by the public. He had nearly two dozen life-sized sculptures of various prehistoric animals built out of concrete sculpted over a steel and brick framework two Iguanodon, one standing and one resting on its belly, were included.  The dinosaurs remain in place in the park, but their depictions are now outdated as a consequence both of paleontological progress and of Owen's own misconceptions. 
The Crystal Palace models, despite their inaccuracy by today's standards, were a landmark in the advancement of paleoart as not only a serious academic undertaking, but also one that can capture the interest of the general public. The Crystal Palace dinosaur models were the first works of paleoart to be merchandised as postcards, guide books, and replicas to the general public.  In the latter half of the 1800s, this major shift could be seen in other developments taking place in academic books and paintings featuring scientific restorations of prehistoric life. For example, a book by French scientist Louis Figuier titled La Terre Avant le Deluge, published in 1863, was the first to feature a series of works of paleoart documenting life through time. Illustrated by French painter Édouard Riou, this book featured iconic scenes of dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals based on Owen's constructions, and would establish a template for academic books featuring artworks of prehistoric life through time for years to come. 
"Classic" paleoart (1890–1970) Edit
As the western frontier was further opened up in the latter half of the nineteenth century, the rapidly increasing pace of dinosaur discoveries in the bone-rich badlands of the American Midwest and the Canadian wilderness brought with it a renewed interest in artistic reconstructions of paleontological findings. This "classic" period saw the emergence of Charles R. Knight, Rudolph Zallinger, and Zdeněk Burian as the three most prominent exponents of paleoart. During this time, dinosaurs were popularly reconstructed as tail-dragging, cold-blooded, sluggish "Great Reptiles" that became a byword for evolutionary failure in the minds of the public. 
Charles Knight is generally considered one of the key figures in paleoart during this time. His birth three years after Charles Darwin's publication of the influential Descent of Man, along with the "Bone Wars" between rival American paleontologists Edward Drinker Cope and Othniel Marsh raging during his childhood, had poised Knight for rich early experiences in developing an interest in reconstructing prehistoric animals. As an avid wildlife artist who disdained drawing from mounts or photographs, instead preferring to draw from life, Knight grew up drawing living animals, but turned toward prehistoric animals against the backdrop of rapidly-expanding paleontological discoveries and the public energy that accompanied the sensationalist coverage of these discoveries around the turn of the 20th century.  Knight's foray into paleoart can be traced to a commission ordered by Dr. Jacob Wortman in 1894 of a painting of a prehistoric pig, Elotherium, to accompany its fossil display at the American Museum of Natural History. Knight, who had always preferred to draw animals from life, applied his knowledge of modern pig anatomy to the painting, which so thrilled Wortman that the museum then commissioned Knight to paint a series of watercolors of various fossils on display. 
Throughout the 1920s, '30s and '40s, Knight went on produce drawings, paintings and murals of dinosaurs, early man, and extinct mammals for the American Museum of Natural History, where he was mentored by Henry Fairfield Osborn, and Chicago's Field Museum, as well as for National Geographic and many other major magazines of the time, culminating in his last major mural for the Everhart Museum of Scranton, Pennsylvania, in 1951.  Biologist Stephen Jay Gould later remarked on the depth and breadth of influence that Knight's paleoart had on shaping public perception of extinct animals, even without having published original research in the field. Gould described Knight's contribution to scientific understanding in his 1989 book Wonderful Life: "Not since the Lord himself showed his stuff to Ezekiel in the valley of dry bones had anyone shown such grace and skill in the reconstruction of animals from disarticulated skeletons. Charles R. Knight, the most celebrated of artists in the reanimation of fossils, painted all the canonical figures of dinosaurs that fire our fear and imagination to this day".  One of Knight's most famous pieces was his Leaping Laelaps, which he produced for the American Museum of Natural History in 1897. This painting was one of the few works of paleoart produced before 1960 to depict dinosaurs as active, fast-moving creatures, anticipating the next era of paleontological artworks informed by the Dinosaur Renaissance. 
Knight's illustrations also had a large and long-lasting influence on the depiction of prehistoric animals in popular culture. The earliest depictions of dinosaurs in movies, such as the 1933 King Kong film and the 1925 production of The Lost World, based on the Arthur Conan Doyle novel of the same name, relied heavily on Knight's dinosaur paintings to produce suitable dinosaur models that were realistic for the time. The special effects artist Ray Harryhausen would continue basing his movie dinosaurs on Knight illustrations up through the sixties, including for films such as the 1966 One Million Years B.C. and the 1969 Valley of Gwangi. 
Rudolph Zallinger and Zdeněk Burian both went on to influence the state of dinosaur art while Knight's career began to wind down. Zallinger, a Russia-born American painter, began working for the Yale Peabody Museum illustrating marine algae around the time that the United States entered World War II.  He began his most iconic piece of paleoart, a five-year mural project for the Yale Peabody Museum, in 1942. This mural, titled The Age of Reptiles, was completed in 1947 and became representative of the modern consensus of dinosaur biology at that time.  He later completed a second great mural for the Peabody, The Age of Mammals, which grew out of a painting published in Life magazine in 1953. 
Zdeněk Burian, working from his native Czechoslovakia, followed the school of Knight and Zallinger, entering modern, biologically-informed paleoart scene via his extensive series of prehistoric life illustrations.  Burian entered the world of prehistoric illustration in the early 1930s with illustrations for fictional books set in various prehistoric times by amateur archaeologist Eduard Štorch. These illustrations brought him to the attention of paleontologist Josef Augusta, with whom Burian worked in cooperation from 1935 until Augusta's death in 1968.  This collaboration led ultimately to the launching of Burian's career in paleoart. 
Some authors have remarked on a darker, more sinister feel to his paleoart than that of his contemporaries, speculating that this style was informed by Burian's experience producing artwork in his native Czechoslovakia during World War II and, afterwards, under Soviet control. His depictions of suffering, death, and the harsh realities of survival that emerged as themes in his paleoart were unique at the time.  Original Burian paintings are on exhibit at the Dvůr Králové Zoo, the National Museum (Prague) and at the Anthropos Museum in Brno.  In 2017, the first valid Czech dinosaur was named Burianosaurus augustai in honor of both Burian and Josef Augusta. 
While Charles Knight, Rudolph Zallinger and Zdeněk Burian dominated the landscape of "classic" scientific paleoart in the first half of the 20th century, they were far from the only paleoartists working at this time. German landscape painter Heinrich Harder was illustrating natural history articles, including a series accompanying articles by science writer Wilhelm Bölsche on earth history for Die Gartenlaube, a weekly magazine, in 1906 and 1908. He also worked with Bölsche to illustrate 60 dinosaur and other prehistoric animal collecting cards for the Reichardt Cocoa Company, titled "Tiere der Urwelt" ("Animals of the Prehistoric World").  One of Harder's contemporaries, Danish paleontologist Gerhard Heilmann, produced a large number of sketches and ink drawings related to Archaeopteryx and avian evolution, culminating in his lavishly illustrated and controversial treatise The Origin of Birds, published in 1926. 
The Dinosaur Renaissance (1970–2010) Edit
This classic depiction of dinosaurs remained the status quo until the 1960s, when a minor scientific revolution began changing the perceptions of dinosaurs as tail-dragging, sluggish animals to active, alert creatures.  This reformation took place following the 1964 discovery of Deinonychus by paleontologist John Ostrom. Ostrom's description of this nearly-complete birdlike dinosaur, published in 1969, challenged the presupposition of dinosaurs as cold-blooded, slow-moving reptiles, instead finding that many of these animals were likely reminiscent of birds, not just in evolutionary history and classification but in appearance and behavior as well. This idea had been advanced before, most notably by 1800s English biologist Thomas Huxley about the link between dinosaurs, modern birds, and the then-newly discovered Archaeopteryx. With the discovery and description of Deinonychus, however, Ostrom had laid out the strongest evidence yet of the close link between birds and dinosaurs. The artistic reconstructions of Deinonychus by his student, Robert Bakker, remain iconic of what came to be known as the Dinosaur Renaissance. 
Bakker's influence during this period on then-fledgling paleoartists, such as Gregory S. Paul, as well as on public consciousness brought about a paradigm shift in how dinosaurs were perceived by artist, scientist and layman alike. The science and public understanding of dinosaur biology became charged by Bakker's innovative and often controversial ideas and portrayals, including the idea that dinosaurs were in fact warm-blooded animals like mammals and birds. Bakker's drawings of Deinonychus and other dinosaurs depicted the animals leaping, running, and charging, and his novel artistic output was accompanied by his writings on paleobiology, with his influential and well-known book The Dinosaur Heresies, published in 1986, now regarded as a classic.  American scientist-artist Gregory Paul, working originally as Bakker's student in the 1970s, became one of the leading illustrators of prehistoric reptiles in the 1980s and has been described by some authors as the paleoartist who may "define modern paleoart more than any other".  Paul is notable for his 'rigorous' approach to paleoartistic restorations, including his multi-view skeletal reconstructions, evidence-driven studies of musculature and soft tissue, and his attention to biomechanics to ensure realistic poses and gaits of his artistic subjects. The artistic innovation that Paul brought to the field of paleoart is to prioritize detail over atmosphere, leading to some criticism of his work as being 'flat' or lacking in depth, but also to imbue dinosaur depictions with a greater variety of naturalistic coloration and patterns, whereas most dinosaur coloration in artworks beforehand had been fairly drab and uniform. 
Ostrom, Bakker and Paul changed the landscape of depictions of prehistoric animals in science and popular culture alike throughout the 1970s, '80s and '90s. Their influence affected the presentation of museum displays throughout the world and eventually found its way into popular culture, with the climax of this period perhaps best marked by the 1990 novel and 1993 film Jurassic Park.  Paul in particular helped set the stage for the next wave of paleoaristry, and from the 1970s to the end of the twentieth century, paleoartists working from the 'rigorous' approach included Douglas Henderson, Mark Hallett, Michael Skrepnick, William Stout, Ely Kish, Luis Rey, John Gurche, Bob Walters, and others, including an expanding body of sculpting work led by artists such as Brian Cooley, Stephen Czerkas, and Dave Thomas.   Many of these artists developed unique and lucrative stylistic niches without sacrificing their rigorous approach, such as Douglas Henderson's detailed and atmospheric landscapes, and Luis Rey's brightly-colored, "extreme" depictions.  The "Renaissance" movement so revolutionized paleoart that even the last works of Burian, a master of the "classic" age, were thought to be influenced by the newfangled preference for active, dynamic, exciting depictions of dinosaurs. 
This movement was working in parallel with great strides in the scientific progress of vertebrate paleontology that were occurring during this time. Precision in anatomy and artistic reconstruction was aided by an increasingly detailed and sophisticated understanding of these extinct animals through new discoveries and interpretations that pushed paleoart into more objective territory with respect to accuracy.  For example, the feathered dinosaur revolution, facilitated by unprecedented discoveries in the Liaoning province of northern China in the late 1990s and early 2000s, was perhaps foreseen by artist Sarah Landry, who drew the first feathered dinosaur for Bakker's seminal Scientific American article in 1975. One of the first major shows of dinosaur art was published in 1986 by Sylvia Czerkas, along with the accompanying volume Dinosaurs Past and Present. 
Modern (and post-modern) paleoart (2010–present) Edit
Although various authors are in agreement about the events that caused the beginning of the Dinosaur Renaissance, the transition to the modern age of paleoart has been more gradual, with differing attitudes about what typifies the demarcation. Gregory Paul's high-fidelity archosaur skeletal reconstructions provided a basis for ushering in the modern age of paleoart, which is perhaps best characterized by adding speculative flair to the rigorous, anatomically-conscious approach popularized by the Dinosaur Renaissance. Novel advances in paleontology, such as new feathered dinosaur discoveries and the various pigmentation studies of dinosaur integument that began around 2010, have become representative of paleoart after the turn of the millennium.  Witton (2018) characterizes the modern movement with the rise of digital art, as well as the establishment of an internet community that would enabled paleoartists and enthusiasts to network, share digitized and open access scientific resources, and to build a global community that was unprecedented until the first decade of the twenty-first century. The continuum of work leading from the themes and advances that began in the Dinosaur Renaissance to the production of modern paleoart is showcased in several books that were published post-2010, such as Steve White's Dinosaur Art: The World's Greatest Paleoart (2012) and its "sequel", Dinosaur Art II: The Cutting Edge of Paleoart (2017). 
Although this transition was gradual, this period has been described as a salient cultural phenomenon that came about largely as a consequence of this increased connectivity and access to paleoart brought by the digital age. The saturation of paleoart with established and overused heuristics, many of which had been established by paleoartists working in the height of the revolution that came before, led to an increased awareness and criticism of the repetitive and unimaginative use of ideas that were, by the first decade of the 21st century, lacking in novelty. This observation led to a movement characterized by the idea that prehistoric animals could be shown in artworks engaging in a greater range of behaviors, habitats, styles, compositions, and interpretations of life appearance than had been imagined in paleoart up to that point, but without violating the principles of anatomical and scientific rigor that had been established by the paleoart revolution that came before.  Additionally, the traditional heuristics used in paleoart up to this point were shown to produce illustrations of modern animals that failed to depict these accurately.  These ideas were formalized in a 2012 book by paleoartists John Conway and Memo Kosemen, along with paleontologist Darren Naish, called All Yesterdays: Unique and Speculative Views of Dinosaurs and Other Prehistoric Animals. This book and its associated minor paradigm shift, commonly referred to as the "All Yesterdays" movement, argued that it was better to employ scientifically rigorous "reasoned speculation" to produce a greater range of speculative, but plausible, reconstructions of prehistoric animals. Conway and colleagues argued that the range of appearances and behaviors depicted in paleoart had only managed to capture a very narrow range of what's plausible, based on the limited data available, and that artistic approaches to these depictions had become "overly steeped in tradition".  For example, All Yesterdays examines the small, four-winged dromaeosaur Microraptor in this context. This dinosaur, described in 2003, has been depicted by countless paleoartists as a "strange, dragon-like feathered glider with a reptilian face".  Conway's illustration of Microraptor in All Yesterdays attempts to restore the animal "from scratch" without influence from these popular reconstructions, instead depicting it as a naturalistic, birdlike animal perched at its nest. 
Despite the importance of the "All Yesterdays" movement in hindsight, the book itself argued that the modern conceptualization of paleoart was based on anatomically rigorous restorations that came alongside and subsequent to Paul, including those who experimented with these principles outside of archosaurs. For example, artists that pioneered anatomically rigorous reconstructions of fossil hominids, like Jay Matternes and Alfons and Adrie Kennis, as well fossil mammal paleoartist Mauricio Antón, were lauded by Conway and colleagues as seminal influences in the new culture of paleoart. Other modern paleoartists of the "anatomically rigorous" and "All Yesterdays" movement include Jason Brougham, Mark Hallett, Scott Hartman, Bob Nicholls, Emily Willoughby and Mark P. Witton.  Other authors write in agreement that the modern paleoart movement incorporates an element of "challenging tropes and the status quo" and that paleoart has "entered its experimental phase" as of the dawn of the 21st century. 
A 2013 study found that older paleoart was still influential in popular culture long after new discoveries made them obsolete. This was explained as cultural inertia.  In a 2014 paper, Mark Witton, Darren Naish, and John Conway outlined the historical significance of paleoart, and criticized the over-reliance on clichés and the "culture of copying" they saw to be problematic in the field at the time.  This tendency to copy "memes" established and proliferated by others in the field is thought to have been a stimulus for the "All Yesterdays" movement of injecting originality back into paleoart. 
Since 1999, the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology has awarded the John J. Lanzendorf PaleoArt Prize for achievement in the field. The society says that paleoart "is one of the most important vehicles for communicating discoveries and data among paleontologists, and is critical to promulgating vertebrate paleontology across disciplines and to lay audiences". The SVP is also the site of the occasional/annual "PaleoArt Poster Exhibit", a juried poster show at the opening reception of the annual SVP meetings. 
Paleoart has enjoyed increasing exposure in globally recognized contests and exhibits. The Museu da Lourinhã organizes the annual International Dinosaur Illustration Contest  for promoting the art of dinosaur and other fossils. In fall of 2018, the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science of Albuquerque, New Mexico, displayed a juried show of paleoart called "Picturing the Past".  This show includes 87 works by 46 paleoartists from 15 countries, and features one of the largest and most diverse collections of prehistoric animals, settings, themes and styles. 
Lists with This Book
7. Atlas Bear (1870)
The Atlas bear (Ursus arctos crowtheri) is an extinct bear subspecies from North Africa. Zoologists classified it as a separate species after it was brought to the public&aposs attention by an English serviceman named Crowther in 1840. This species was stockier and sturdier than the American black bear. It was Africa&aposs only native bear that survived into modern times.
Why Did They Become Extinct?
The Atlas Bear became extinct sometime in the late nineteenth century. Like many others on this list, environmental changes and a loss of habitat likely led to a decline in numbers. Overhunting by local tribes and the introduction of modern-day firearms—which made it easier to kill the bears𠅊lso played massive roles.
A Quagga photographed in London Zoo in 1870.
Seemed a good time to float this bad mama-jama (spoiler alert: we&aposre screwed):
Looking for a good horror novel that will keep you up late at night? One that features the most remorseless, inventive, and successful serial killer to ever stumble into the written word? One whose body count grows exponentially as his appetite becomes more ravenous, never sated? One who is so adept at killing that he does so without even seeming to try? Well, I have just the ticket: The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth K Seemed a good time to float this bad mama-jama (spoiler alert: we're screwed):
Looking for a good horror novel that will keep you up late at night? One that features the most remorseless, inventive, and successful serial killer to ever stumble into the written word? One whose body count grows exponentially as his appetite becomes more ravenous, never sated? One who is so adept at killing that he does so without even seeming to try? Well, I have just the ticket: The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert. This is as frightening as it gets, people, and the villain here is us: me, you, and everyone else inhabiting this little blue marble called Earth.
Throughout history, there have been five mass extinction events: the Cretaceous-Paleogene, the Triassic-Jurassic, the Permian-Triassic, the Late Devonian, and the Ordovician-Silurian. All of these involve a cataclysmic shift in environmental conditions, some the result of an external impact. And now Kolbert reports that there may be a sixth extinction: the Anthropocene, caused by the impact of humanity on the environment. Many may believe that this is a byproduct of the Industrial Age, but Kolbert shows us how humans have always had a knack for wreaking wide scale environmental havoc. Always needing and wanting more from our natural resources, we, like kudzu, multiply rapidly, take over every inch of land available to us, and choke out the life that surrounds us.
Kolbert makes the case for recognizing the Anthropocene as a mass extinction event by exploring its casualties and its future victims. As she relates the extinction of the American mastodon, the great auk, and the Neanderthal, as well as the near extinction of the Panamanian golden frog, Hawaiian crow, Sumatran rhino, and several types of bats, one truth becomes increasingly clear: most of these extinctions began to take place when humans entered the environment.
Despite the disheartening nature of the topic, Kolbert writes with dry wit and gallows humor which (for me) always made an appearance at just the right time before things became too depressing. While there is a lot of science here, Kolbert keeps it accessible for those of us who don't while away our days reading scientific journals (you know, while our basic needs and consumer choices destroy everything around us), and her first person narrative keeps it from veering into textbook territory.
There's a lot here that I enjoyed, but three highlights stand out:
1) Kolbert's early chapters about men like Cuvier, Lyell, and Darwin, who were among the first to speculate on extinction and evolution. From our modern perspective, it's easy to forget that extinction, in particular, is a relatively new idea. There was a time when many scientists believed that nothing could become extinct over the natural progression of time the discovery of fossils began to shift human understanding of the world and of creation. Reading as these men stumble in their understanding of the world, shifting and revising hypotheses, and ultimately discovering that there was a world that existed before mankind is fascinating.
2) The chapters on the sea and corals (which may eventually become extinct, taking with them several organisms that live symbiotically with corals) is particularly interesting for someone like myself who is happily landlocked. For those who don't live near or have a relationship with our seas and oceans, it's easy to see it as a vast nothingness and forget about the world teeming below our waters. The rate of ocean acidification is frightening.
3) The concept of a new Pangaea is an intriguing one. The ease with which we travel to other states, countries, and continents has, in a sense, reconstituted Pangaea in that we knowingly (and unknowingly) introduce new and often invasive plant and animal species into new environments. In doing so, these new host environments haven't developed nature's evolutionary safeguards to keep the balance between predator and prey, often with disastrous results.
While Kolbert makes all of this lucid and entertaining, as well as terrifying, I must admit to some fatigue when I got to the final chapters. Reading about mass extinction can really take a toll on someone whose worldview can basically be summed up as "people suck." Reading such incontrovertible evidence, and knowing that I myself cannot escape the guilt of this accusation, is, in the words of Kolbert on The Daily Show, "kind of a downer." However, we need more downers. We need to be more educated about what we're doing to our environment. Early man deserves a pass: you come into a place and think, "Damn. Look at all these mastodons. We can feast like kings!" So you settle in, live a life filled with mastodon hunts and mastodon meat, have several children, dress them in mastodon onesies, kill more mastodons, always assuming there will be more. After all, you've found the great all-you-can-eat mastodon buffet! You have no concept of the impact your consumption is having on the environment. You haven't seen Disney's The Lion King and therefore don't know of the majestic power of the circle of life (nor of the comedic gold of pairing a warthog with a meerkat). Such days of ignorance should be behind us. We know better, so we should do better.
Although, many of us are 4% Neanderthal because apparently early homo sapiens just couldn't resist the seductive power of a ridged brow. So maybe we're not so smart after all.
Ecocides could only be justified with the primate madness gene in Prehistoric times, but nowadays it´s inexcusable.
Archaeologists of the future in millions of years would wonder what has happened, how such devastation could be done in such a short time. They compare volcanic eruptions, climate change, meteorites, changes in the earth&aposs magnetic field, solar storms, gamma ray bursts, etc. with the unique event or people find the ruins of a vanished high culture in the course of the colonization Ecocides could only be justified with the primate madness gene in Prehistoric times, but nowadays it´s inexcusable.
Archaeologists of the future in millions of years would wonder what has happened, how such devastation could be done in such a short time. They compare volcanic eruptions, climate change, meteorites, changes in the earth's magnetic field, solar storms, gamma ray bursts, etc. with the unique event or people find the ruins of a vanished high culture in the course of the colonization of space. And wonder what might have led to their downfall.
In the retrospective, they are most astounded by how they could notice and know everything about such fatal developments and continue whistling cheerfully, saw on the branch they are sitting, poison themselves comprehensively by contaminating the environment, bite the hand that feeds them, and play Russian Roulette with an automatic weapon. To murder the mother, who has lovingly raised them, secretly and viciously for profit or neglect and let her languish in front of them until she dies as a result of negligence.
The extrapolated development illustrates the explosiveness. In 100 or 250 years, humanity will have eradicated almost all species and only a few adaptable wild species and parasites will represent the remaining fauna and flora.
Everyone else will vegetate in zoos if they are lucky or be stuffed out to be gazed at in extensive areas of natural history museums for extinct species. Since the addition out of the education and culture budget for millions of extinct species will be too expensive, one will probably give away the excess exhibits or throw the stuffed last specimens of the species in the trash, burn them, or give them to the stores of the companies who helped to exterminate for decoration purposes in shop windows or for kids to play with while the parents are shopping. It would be a consistent continuation of the treatment of nature by humans to spit on the grave too after the total annihilation.
The homogenization and massive reduction of biodiversity is in two ways more subtle than direct extinction through habitat destruction. By breeding fewer, more productive species, non-lucrative farm animals and the economical completely worthless wild species are driven to the brink of extinction. The spread of invasive species destroys helpless, natural ecosystems and few very aggressive expanding species and the spread breed, genetically enhanced varieties remain. Globally, habitats are becoming more and more similar, the physical equivalent of the, in the cultural and sociological area, much-criticized Americanization.
The lack of empathy is limited to animals and plants. Genocide is, for just about a century, the most outrageous and disturbing thing that people can be confronted with. Before that, humankind was acting consistently, and with equal rights for every group of victims, so far as that he/she eradicated her/his equals too. Now destruction in unprecedented dimensions is accepted as the inevitable collateral damage of human development and the stupid, endless, exponential economic growth of a self destructive system of madness. "It's just ecocide, that's not so bad. They have no soul or something like that, so calm down, tree hugging hippie leftist."
The conviction that everything can be restored with technology is naive and shortsighted. Human-made machines and infrastructures can be built, maintained and modified, removing a mountain is already a more complicated task, but to bring back to life a sea that only consists of death zones or a desert that once was a forest, borders to an impossibility on the momentary state of the art.
In the very long term, the damage to the natural infrastructure needed for biodiversity can be compensated with the corresponding financial, technological, and material resources using robots, gene- and nanotechnology to remove toxicity and build new habitats, etc. But this is like making a lovely house for a dead person with extreme expenses and an interior decorator in the morbid hope that would bring the person back to life. And extinct is even more definitive than dead, it´s not as if there was indirect immortality with grandkids or something, we are talking about truly forever gone.
Furthermore, ecosystems have evolved over millions of years in circumstances that we do not understand and aren´t interested in investing money to learn more about. Even now there are more open than answered questions and factors and often an element was changed with good intention and had fatal effects instead. At the moment it´s impossible to rebuild a complex ecosystem from an empty, human-made pseudo natural space, just the microbiological part with the right soil conditions is far too tricky. A habitat is needed that not only preserves itself but also stands in a complex and balanced interplay with climate, weather, landforms, and adjacent, other ecosystems, and adapts to evolutionary and climate changes.
Fresh, by humans, decontaminated and reforested habitats will be empty because one will not have genetic samples like the ones from mammoths and dinosaurs because nobody takes them, because the animals die out without it even being noticed and because it´s seen as too expensive to freeze probes from the last survivors in zoos before they die in many places, especially if it´s no cuddly panda, but a nasty snake, critter, or ugly fish, yuk. Surely one will be able to create chimeras, cheap wannabe replicas or classic fantasy creatures. Just the biodiversity, the breadth of variation, and the ingenuity of nature in millions of expressions, which has developed in billions of years, will be lost forever.
Homo Sapiens will not be severely affected or interested in the results anyway. People will not die out, no matter how poisoned and hostile the planet will become because the same technology that allows the destruction of nature will save the destroyers and bring them longer and healthier lives. It will merely make more economic sense to turn the planet back into a habitable and not immediately deadly state when leaving the secure zones or underground bunkers.
It will be a pretty empty planet. The limited creative power of humankind will conjure bad copies of the former biodiversity, but nothing will come close to the original range of variation and diversity of natural evolution some of us are still privileged to see when going outside.
This is officially the most boring book I&aposve read this year.
There were some interesting moments but they were too few to compensate.
You&aposll learn more about random rainforest frogs than you ever wanted.
Also I find that while reading some non fiction you have to like the author to a certain extent and I just couldn&apost here. One moment during the book she writes about how she tried to visit a certain location and asked the lady working at the gift shop to give her a tour. The employee obviously t This is officially the most boring book I've read this year.
There were some interesting moments but they were too few to compensate.
You'll learn more about random rainforest frogs than you ever wanted.
Also I find that while reading some non fiction you have to like the author to a certain extent and I just couldn't here. One moment during the book she writes about how she tried to visit a certain location and asked the lady working at the gift shop to give her a tour. The employee obviously told her she was busy and I couldn't help but resent the author for being salty about it as she wrote that "as far as she could tell they were the only ones there". Like come on.
Better Dead Than Read
In the Book of Genesis, God creates mankind last, as if anticipating the theory of Darwinian evolution. But the text is somewhat ambivalent about his accomplishment. Whereas all his other creations - time, space, light, plants, sentient creatures - are explicitly deemed ‘good,’ human beings are merely lumped in with everything else as God surveys the world. The biblical author seems to be hedging the blessing (mitzvah: both a command and a favour) of human ‘rule’ over ever Better Dead Than Read
In the Book of Genesis, God creates mankind last, as if anticipating the theory of Darwinian evolution. But the text is somewhat ambivalent about his accomplishment. Whereas all his other creations - time, space, light, plants, sentient creatures - are explicitly deemed ‘good,’ human beings are merely lumped in with everything else as God surveys the world. The biblical author seems to be hedging the blessing (mitzvah: both a command and a favour) of human ‘rule’ over everything. If so, his caution has turned out to be justified. Putting the inmates in charge of the asylum has turned out to be a profound design flaw.
But perhaps not for much longer. The species Homo sapiens seems to have run its course. It has overwhelmed the creative matrix which produced it. And it has done so in an evolutionary blink of an eye. Its facility for communication through complex language, as Emil Cioran has said, has filled creation with a glut of consciousness, an intellectual burden which it cannot sustain. The threat is not mankind’s greed, or hostility, or sexual urges but thought itself. Thought, which is language in action, produces cooperative effort, which produces technology, which removes all impediments to the spread of the species.
Except, of course, one impediment: the success of the species itself. It is a species which consumes everything it encounters. This it calls ‘finding a use for,’ or sometimes ‘making life better.’ This is an expected consequence of language-use. As Yuval Harari observes, it is gossip which propelled the species into poll position in the evolutionary race. Members of the species gin each other up to want more of everything: more children, more food, more air, water, minerals. well just more of everything. Isn’t this what ruling is all about? Making things better? Enhancing existence? Realising one’s full potential, as well as that of the species? Isn’t that the practical definition of salvation? Striving for perfection?
One of Stanislaw Lem’s stories turns the tables on the evolutionary story we tell ourselves about being the most developed species, the top of the food chain, the acme of known existence. For Lem all this striving, this wanting to be better, bigger, stronger, more secure, to be something other than what we already are, is an obvious evolutionary defect, a dead end genetic branch that will wither as creation moves on. And what it will move on to is the inertia of what the species now sees dismissively as ‘dead matter.’ This is, of course, obviously the case. Look in any grave yard for confirmation or in the fossil record or for that matter into the maw of the nearest astronomical black hole. Entropy, that is to say, that silent, peaceful equality is the heaven that awaits us, the omega point of Teilhard de Chardin.
Meanwhile we are effectively trapped in this bubble of language. We can’t resist it, or dispose of it, or in any way mitigate its profoundly destructive consequences - for us as well as for the other species with which we live. We are doomed to destroy them, as in a Ted Chiang story, simply by perceiving them. Even by naming them, we endanger their existence because it means we have become aware of them as a potential resource. We are prisoners of ourselves. Stories about future threats to human existence through developments in Artificial Intelligence are actually distractions from current reality. Language already controls us.
In this light, it helps to look at the record. The Ordovician extinction occurred over a period of a million years as global temperatures dropped, and was caused by silicate rocks sucking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. 86% of all species perished. The Devonian extinction, triggered by the development of plant life on land releasing nutrients into the oceans, thus wiping out 75% of marine animals. The Permian extinction was the big one, the proximate cause being methane-producing bacteria. 96% of life on each disappeared. The Triassic extinction has no agreed upon cause but it wiped out 80% of contemporary species. The Cretaceous extinction, the one with the asteroid impact in the Gulf of Mexico as its final coup, was relatively mild only three quarters of known species were eliminated. It too seems like the revenge of dead matter.
Isn’t it interesting that each of these events was precipitated by material, both living and dead, rather far down the purported evolutionary ladder than the most ‘advanced’ organisms then in existence. Evolutionary development carries with it inherent vulnerability to changes in the environment. The less developed, that is the closer to dead matter, the more likely the chances of survival. And dead matter probably only goes extinct in some sort of cosmic singularity like a black hole. Language simultaneously makes us aware and insulates us from this reality. Inside the bubble of language we can rationalise our inevitable fate - science will save us God has another world waiting for us the mathematical probabilities for another similar event is low, etc. We know deep down that language is deceiving us but we act like it’s just part of reality.
The implications are obvious. Neither God nor human beings created language, thus contradicting our fundamental language-based conceit. Language evolved from us but is independent of us. And we are addicted to it. We resent the power of language, even as we pretend to use it to further our own. We are at its mercy and we intend, unconsciously but deliberately, to stop its hegemony. Like every other extinction event, this one too is being executed by an ‘inferior’ species upon one which has emanated from it. We are determined to wipe out language, or at least to scramble it so profoundly that its meanings are irrecoverable. The elimination of so many other species along the way is merely collateral damage, unfortunate but necessary. This perhaps is the true significance of the story in Genesis chapter 11 of the Tower of Babel. And it certainly explains Donald Trump’s appeal to the mass of Deplorables.
Kolbert has the trajectory correct but the mechanism wrong. Nothing about the Sixth Extinction is accidental or unwanted. It was inevitable from the moment an idea and a sound or gesture popped into some primitive head and were linked. That was the start of the rot. And there are plenty of folk out there who are willing to go to the wall in order to stop it. Better Dead Than Read is their motto. Heed them they are serious and dedicated. And they are winning. . more
This is a dark and deeply depressing book, trying hard to be hopeful — on the lines of Douglas Adams&apos Last Chance to See.
Kolbert&aposs book reminds us that we could be the last couple of generations to witness true diversity, maybe the last to see such magnificent and delicate creatures as the amphibians.
The story of the Sixth Extinction, at least as Kolbert has chosen to tell it, comes in thirteen chapters. Each tracks a species that’s in some way emblematic — the American mast
Dial M for Murder
This is a dark and deeply depressing book, trying hard to be hopeful — on the lines of Douglas Adams' Last Chance to See.
Kolbert's book reminds us that we could be the last couple of generations to witness true diversity, maybe the last to see such magnificent and delicate creatures as the amphibians.
The story of the Sixth Extinction, at least as Kolbert has chosen to tell it, comes in thirteen chapters. Each tracks a species that’s in some way emblematic — the American mastodon, the great auk, an ammonite that disappeared at the end of the Cretaceous alongside the dinosaurs.
The creatures in the early chapters are already gone, and this part of the book is mostly concerned with the great extinctions of the past and the twisting history of their discovery, starting with the work of the French naturalist Georges Cuvier.
The second part of the book takes place very much in the present—in the increasingly fragmented Amazon rainforest, on a fast-warming slope in the Andes, on the outer reaches of the Great Barrier Reef.
Kolbert’s book also spends much ink tracking the history of humanity’s (well, western at least) awareness of extinction and then the science of studying it. It starts from the biblical conception of all creatures as eternal and changeless to the gradual awareness that some animals might be rare or extinct and eventually to the awareness of Natural selection and the importance of change for life on Earth.
Thomas Kuhn, the twentieth century’s most influential historian of science, has much to say about such paradigmatic revelations: about how people process disruptive information — Their first impulse is to force it into a familiar framework: hearts, spades, clubs. Signs of mismatch are disregarded for as long as possible—the red spade looks “brown” or “rusty.” At the point the anomaly becomes simply too glaring, a crisis ensues—what the psychologists dubbed the “’My God!’ reaction.”
This pattern was, Kuhn argued in his seminal work, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions , so basic that it shaped not only individual perceptions but entire fields of inquiry. Data that did not fit the commonly accepted assumptions of a discipline would either be discounted or explained away for as long as possible. The more contradictions accumulated, the more convoluted the rationalizations became. “In science, as in the playing card experiment, novelty emerges only with difficulty,” Kuhn wrote.
But then, finally, someone came along who was willing to call a red spade a red spade. Crisis led to insight, and the old framework gave way to a new one. This is how great scientific discoveries or, to use the term Kuhn made so popular, “paradigm shifts” took place.
The history of the science of extinction can be told as a series of paradigm shifts. Until the end of the eighteenth century, the very category of extinction didn’t exist. The more strange bones were unearthed—mammoths, Megatherium, mosasaurs—the harder naturalists had to squint to fit them into a familiar framework. And squint they did. The giant bones belonged to elephants that had been washed north, or hippos that had wandered west, or whales with malevolent grins. When Cuvier arrived in Paris, he saw that the mastodon’s molars could not be fit into the established framework, a “My God” moment that led to him to propose a whole new way of seeing them. Life, Cuvier recognized, had a history. This history was marked by loss and punctuated by events too terrible for human imagining. “Though the world does not change with a change of paradigm, the scientist afterward works in a different world” is how Kuhn put it.
Are the early participants of Humanity’s ‘Mega Kill’, the ‘Sixth Extinction’, if you will, martyrs to humanity’s self-awareness as immoral killers -- required to make us finally think through to the consequences of our actions?
Anthropocene & Morality
Humanity might finally be capable of perceiving the change that has been wrought, and moving into the most crucial understanding of all — that our survival depends on preserving Earth as close to how we inherited it as possible!
The emblematic extinctions are valuable because they serve as blazing sign posts. The eco-system might be too slow in its actions to warn us in time, but our aesthetic sensibility might be capable of warning us in advance when we are too far off the tracks. That might in turn finally engage our moral responsibility for creating an Anthropocene in which most of our co-inheritors of the planet cannot survive. ‘Love thy neighbor’? Can we? Or will we continue to shy away from any moral colorings to the argument? Even as we commit to and associate ourselves with blatant Ecocide?
Our biggest threat is ecological, human-induced change and, to be more specific, rate of change:
When the world changes faster than species can adapt, many fall out. This is the case whether the agent drops from the sky in a fiery streak or drives to work in a Honda. . more
This book is a very engaging examination of extinctions of animal species through the ages. Elizabeth Kolbert adds a wonderfully personal touch to many of the chapters, as she describes her visits to the habitats where various species are dying out. She accompanies scientists and ecologists as they delve into extinctions, past and present. Some biologists are gathering up endangered species, putting them into special reserves and zoo-like habitats where they might be able to survive.
There is no This book is a very engaging examination of extinctions of animal species through the ages. Elizabeth Kolbert adds a wonderfully personal touch to many of the chapters, as she describes her visits to the habitats where various species are dying out. She accompanies scientists and ecologists as they delve into extinctions, past and present. Some biologists are gathering up endangered species, putting them into special reserves and zoo-like habitats where they might be able to survive.
There is no single cause for the various massive extinctions. Some were due to sudden changes in climate, some due to catastrophes like meteors, some due to disease, and some are due to humans. For example, the mastodon's extinction coincides with the spread of humans. The original penguin--the auk--became extinct due to a combination of factors, including volcanoes and human hunters in the nineteenth century. Coral reefs are dying off because of increasing acidification much of the excessive carbon dioxide produced by humans is absorbed by the ocean, where the ph level is become less base.
Homo sapiens lived at the same time as other hominid species, such as Neanderthals and Denisovans. Visually, Neanderthals were not so different from us. If you gave one a shave and a suit, a Neanderthal might look like this:
So, the question comes up why did these other nearly-human species go extinct, while humans survived? The question is especially appropriate, as there is DNA evidence that humans interbred with some of these other species. The answer is very possibly that humans killed them off.
What makes this book so special, is Kolbert's writing style. She makes me feel like I'm "right there" with the biologists and ecologists. She personally visits the habitats, and goes into some depth talking with the specialists. Each chapter becomes an adventure. Sometimes the subject matter becomes depressing, as it is about the dying (or killing) off of species. But the writing is so engaging, that I highly recommend this book!
"no snow, now ice" by photographer Patty Waymire, National Geographic
Every part of the earth is sacred to my people. Every shining pine needle, every sandy shore, every mist in the dark woods, every meadow, every humming insect. All are holy in the memory and experience of my people.
When I was a child my favorite books were the Golden Nature Guides about insects, birds, sea shells, and so on. I learned many insect names, as well as those of the butterflies and other animals. I al
"no snow, now ice" by photographer Patty Waymire, National Geographic
Every part of the earth is sacred to my people. Every shining pine needle, every sandy shore, every mist in the dark woods, every meadow, every humming insect. All are holy in the memory and experience of my people.
When I was a child my favorite books were the Golden Nature Guides about insects, birds, sea shells, and so on. I learned many insect names, as well as those of the butterflies and other animals. I also remember seeing so many different varieties of wildlife back then. Little did I know then that in later years I would look for the birds, butterflies and insects of my youth and not see many of them. I jump for joy when I see a praying mantis, an inch worm, or a walking stick. We are losing our bees, and I seldom see those either. If we lose them all we lose our fruits and other plants that need pollinated. China has to hand pollinate now. The only butterfly I see here are black swallowtails. What happened to the buckeye, the yellow swallowtail, and all the others?
This year I learned that black swallowtails love fennel, so I was given some fennel to plant in hope that it would draw more of them to my garden. One day I saw two caterpillars on it, and they had eaten all the fennel, As I was watching them, they crawled off to look for more food. Not finding any, they crawled back onto the fennel. I called a friend who asked me to bring the caterpillars over to her house. She put them in a jar with fennel where she could keep them safe from the birds. They made cocoons, hatched and flew off. Why do we even have to do this? What happened?
Little did I know back in my youth that we would be losing wild life. There is so much we didn’t know back then, but then I remember my 8th grade teacher, Mr. Bailey, telling us about the book "Silent Spring" by Rachel Carson, about a time when we would not be hearing song birds and other sounds of nature. No one listened then they still don't listen. When it is silent they will listen and not hear a thing.
Like "Silent Spring" this book was written as another warning, and it won the Pulitzer Prize. It is easy to understand and at times it is enjoyable, that is, if you like reading about nature.
Did you know that there is a flower that ants live inside of, and that the flower allows them to live there because the ants kill other insects that may try to harm it? Did you know that there are such things as antbutterflies that swarm around army ants, and that they live off the droppings of the antbirds that also swarm around the flower?
I love reading that kind of information, but then again, we are that sixth extinction that she writes about. It is sad to see what we are doing to this planet and to learn that many species are dying daily. My brother once said, "We don't deserve this planet." How true.
The author said some things that made me feel a little better but not by much. She mentioned that during the last extinctions new life forms evolved. New life forms sound encouraging, but who wants to lose what we have now?
I often think of how much we have Junked out this earth. I wonder if it will die, or if something will happen that will save it. When I read this next paragraph I thought of how nice it would be to have all of our Junk reduced to the size of a cigarette paper. The author mentioned a scientist, Professor Jan Zalasiewicz, who "is convinced that even a moderately competent stratigrapher will, at the distance of a hundred million years or so, be able to tell that something extraordinary happened at the moment in time that counts for us as today. This is the case even though a hundred million years from now, all that we consider to be the great works of man—the sculptures and the libraries, the monuments and the museums, the cities and the factories—will be compressed into a layer of sediment not much thicker than a cigarette paper.”
Other quotes: “Though it might be nice to imagine there once was a time when man lived in harmony with nature, it’s not clear that he ever really did.”
“Under business as usual, by mid-century things are looking rather grim,” he told me a few hours after I had arrived at One Tree. We were sitting at a beat-up picnic table, looking out over the heartbreaking blue of the Coral Sea. The island’s large and boisterous population of terns was screaming in the background. Atmospheric scientist Ken Caldeira paused: “I mean, they’re looking grim already.”
“Having freed ourselves from the constraints of evolution, humans nevertheless remain dependent on the earth’s biological and geochemical systems. By disrupting these systems—cutting down tropical rainforests, altering the composition of the atmosphere, acidifying the oceans—we’re putting our own survival in danger.”
“Ninety percent of all species on earth had been eliminated.”
“According to the UN Environment Programme, the Earth is in the midst of a mass extinction of life. Scientists estimate that 150-200 species of plant, insect, bird and mammal become extinct every 24 hours. This is nearly 1,000 times the "natural" or "background" rate and, say many biologists, is greater than anything the world has experienced since the vanishing of the dinosaurs nearly 65m years ago. Around 15% of mammal species and 11% of bird species are classified as threatened with extinction.”
John Vidal, environment editor
I don&apost recall ever reading a book that SO made me want to curl up in a ball on the floor and just SOB.
The book ends with a chapter entitled The Thing With Feathers, which is hope, according to Emily Dickinson. (Or Woody Allen&aposs nephew, if you know that joke.) Yet this chapter contains some of the more dire information, not to mention the most tear-inducing quotes: “When I hear of the destruction of a species I feel just as if all the works of some great writer had perished.”
I don't recall ever reading a book that SO made me want to curl up in a ball on the floor and just SOB.
The book ends with a chapter entitled The Thing With Feathers, which is hope, according to Emily Dickinson. (Or Woody Allen's nephew, if you know that joke.) Yet this chapter contains some of the more dire information, not to mention the most tear-inducing quotes:
"We're seeing right now that a mass extinction can be caused by human beings."
"Right now we are in the midst of the Sixth Extinction, this time caused solely by humanity's transformation of the ecological landscape."
plaque displayed at the American Museum of History's Hall of Biodiversity
Throughout history, there have been five other mass extinctions that led to "a profound loss of biodiversity." But the cause for this one lies squarely on our shoulders.
It is estimated that one-third of all reef-building corals, a third of all fresh-water mollusks, a third of sharks and rays, a quarter of all mammals, a fifth of all reptiles, and a sixth of all birds are headed toward oblivion.
Let's take a look at some of the things we stand to lose.
The Panamanian Golden Frog
"I sought a career in herpetology because I enjoy working with animals. I did not anticipate that it would come to resemble paleontology."
Joseph Mendelson, a herpetologist at Zoo Atlanta
The Asian Elephant
. . . if current emissions trends continue, within the next fifty years or so "all coral reefs will cease to grow and start to dissolve."
The Sumatran Rhino
The Marianas Flying Fox
This bat has become a victim of the accidental introduction of the brown tree snake.
Disastrously introduced species are discussed in a chapter entitled The New Pangaea.
Though Kolbert is no Mary Roach, she does try to inject some humor whenever possible. I got a laugh out of her account of Australia's problem with the cane toad, a critter purposely introduced to control sugarcane beetles. Preschoolers are enlisted to help in reducing the toad's numbers:
To dispose of the toads humanely, the council instructs children to "cool them in a fridge for 12 hours" and then place them "in a freezer for another 12 hours."
Be careful when you reach for a popsicle in that house!
So, besides losing lots of wonderful wildlife, why should we care?
"In pushing other species to extinction, humanity is busy sawing off the limb on which it perches."
Stanford ecologist Paul Ehrlich
Rudy Park by Darrin Bell and Theron Heir, July 6, 2015
There are things we can do, but you know how we are when it comes to cutting back and making sacrifices.
Are we willing to do them?
If you want me, I'll be on the floor sobbing. . more
*hides in apocalypse-safe bunker and cries*
A goosebump-inducing nonfiction read! The Sixth Extinction is told in a part textbook, part narrative style the author gives readers hard facts mixed into detailed personal accounts of her research trips. In 13 chapters, she tells the stories of several species, some long extinct, some still teetering on the brink of extinction, all with one common enemy - us.
The best part of the book is that Kolbert isn&apost trying to blame the human race or make her re *hides in apocalypse-safe bunker and cries*
A goosebump-inducing nonfiction read! The Sixth Extinction is told in a part textbook, part narrative style the author gives readers hard facts mixed into detailed personal accounts of her research trips. In 13 chapters, she tells the stories of several species, some long extinct, some still teetering on the brink of extinction, all with one common enemy - us.
The best part of the book is that Kolbert isn't trying to blame the human race or make her readers feel guilty. She only explains the effect we have on our earth and where this could lead (possibly to world domination by giant tool-making rats.) The message is simply, "Here is the information you decide what to do with it."
I shied away from reading this for a while imaging that it would be, nay should be, grimmer than the grim saga of Grim Grimson the grim from Grimsby. But it is not, because the unrelenting grimness of the mass extermination occurring now is overshadowed by the relentless bounciness and vigour of the narrative style, if I were to descend in to crude stereotypes (view spoiler) [ which is one way of telling you that I am descending into crude stereotypes (hide spoiler)] then I would say that is is b I shied away from reading this for a while imaging that it would be, nay should be, grimmer than the grim saga of Grim Grimson the grim from Grimsby. But it is not, because the unrelenting grimness of the mass extermination occurring now is overshadowed by the relentless bounciness and vigour of the narrative style, if I were to descend in to crude stereotypes (view spoiler) [ which is one way of telling you that I am descending into crude stereotypes (hide spoiler)] then I would say that is is because the stereotypical American personality of the US author shines through.
This definitely reportage, it is not a call to arms like This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate to mobilise or inspire activists, this is more in the tradition of this is happening and how some people are reacting. The key thing is that if you like shell fish or crustaceans, best eat them now while you can.
Kolbert spends part of the book, maybe a third to half, discussing more or less ancient extinctions and mass extinctions, and the rest discussing the contemporary situation, as she tells it there are several inter-related crises taking place. On the one hand there is climate change and acidification of the oceans (which is why you need to eat all the Lobster Thermidor that you can, preferably as you read this) this is causing mass extinction, at the same time Human activity, generally moving around and either deliberately or thoughtlessly moving other species about is increasing diversity everywhere but also reducing the numbers of species - for example the human colonisation of the Pacific introduced pigs and rats to lots of islands that didn't have any mammals other than bats, but the rats and the people consumed in one way or another a lot of the local species into extinction. This, Kolbert says, still happens today citing fungal infections introduced into the Americas in recent years that are doing a fine job of wiping out bat and frog species. So even if by some miracle climate change and the acidification of the oceans could be halted or even reversed we still have to allow for continuing extinctions on a massive scale simply through human carelessness (view spoiler) [ for example creatures transferred in the bilge water of ships from one region to another (hide spoiler)] . Or to put it another way when the body is found in the Library it is a fair guess that although the victim was shot through the heart, they had also been beaten about the back of the head with the lead pipe, after having been earlier poisoned and finally hung.
Kolbert discusses attempts to preserve the Sumatran Rhino, the general impression is that we are so ignorant and arrogant in relations to the animals that we may attempt to save, that any success has to be ascribed as much to luck as to effort - the US zoologists responsible for Sumatran Rhinos for instance assumed that the Rhinos would be perfectly happy to live on a diet of hay until they started to die, a story which gave me flash backs to reading Isabel Charman's The Zoo. Somewhere Kolbert observes contra Burns in To a Mousethat it is not so much a question of "I'm truly sorry Man's dominion/Has broken Nature's social union", more that the existence of humans is intrinsically disruptive to ecosystems, there was no living in harmony in nature from her point of view. I felt on reflection that this was a reassertion of American exceptionalism by other means (and expanded generously to embrace all people (view spoiler) [ equality at last! (hide spoiler)] ). Is it not true of most if not all species that they change the ecosystem? We just seem to be better at destroying all other life forms. However she also misses a trick here and comes close to normalising this sixth extinction as merely a sign of our Augustinian intrinsically sinful and fallen natures rather than seeing that what is happening is particularly intense and seemingly unstoppable precisely because of Capitalism and the pursuit of perpetual economic growth and ever growing profits.
As I said it is reportage, she felt free to unironically travel to various locations round the world, despite plainly knowing from her own reportage the damage this does through either causing climate change or moving species from one place to another, apres nous le deluge (view spoiler) [ 'let them eat Plankton' might also be appropriate (hide spoiler)] .
The writing is lively but of a kind, that if like me the thumb is clumsy and turns several pages at once that you don't miss anything, and why someone bothered to add a few black and white illustrations of no particular relevance to anything I don't know. Anyway if you like to feast on the shell fish you might have about a century left, but thereafter, there will be lots more plankton, yummy.
Personally I found Silent Spring, although older and more limited in scope, far more moving, but if you prefer your disaster reading to be more up to date and without the added grimness of 'somebody was complaining about this decades ago and not enough was done' then this is a good choice. . more
I&aposve read a lot of non-fiction books that are dry and sometimes gets bogged down in details and others that are very engaging but rather light on the meat. And then sometimes, you get a very cogent work with a very rich sampling of science from all different quarters laid out in such a way that it is impossible to believe anything BUT the final summation.
This is one of those works. We are in the middle of the sixth extinction event on Earth. The final result of the dieoff, as of just how many mi I've read a lot of non-fiction books that are dry and sometimes gets bogged down in details and others that are very engaging but rather light on the meat. And then sometimes, you get a very cogent work with a very rich sampling of science from all different quarters laid out in such a way that it is impossible to believe anything BUT the final summation.
This is one of those works. We are in the middle of the sixth extinction event on Earth. The final result of the dieoff, as of just how many millions of species will succumb to the tipped balance of the biosphere, is yet to be known.
But let's put it this way: if you were just informed that there were no jobs in your town and that everyone else was just told that 1/3 of the jobs would remain for the next six months, and then after that, they would leave as well, you'd decide to move away. Right? So, you try to, only you find out that someone has just destroyed all the roads in or out of your town and there's no supply line for foods or services. Imagine the chaos. How would you survive? How would anyone? Now assume you slow that process down just enough that no one or very few people living there have a clue as to the reality of this situation. Belts tighten, poverty increases, some may try to move away but get crushed under the wheels of a much larger machine.
Now extrapolate that situation to every other town in the world.
And then overlay the problem to every other species in the world. Dice up ecospheres, destroy the homes and habitats there, and only the fleet of foot can survive. but where do they go? They're an invasive species now. They take on and live or die in someone else's backward. If it's a human's backyard, it'll get killed. Rinse, repeat. Add disease, and predatory species filling in stressed niches, and you've got a pandemic. Across all species.
Now, remember, a few hundred years or even a few thousand is just a flash in the pan for extinctions. Not all come from meteorites or volcanoes. We probably didn't kill off the Neanderthals by hunting. Economics works just as well. And even if a tribe hunts down a wooly mammoth every ten years, the gestation is slow enough that it would still bring a downward pressure on the species until it's gone in several thousand years. Period. And this isn't even accounting for the widespread death in rainforests now.
Add global warming, acidification of the ocean, the deaths of the coral reefs, the disappearance of the frogs, the bees, and from there, the tipping point that will eradicate larger species as they begin to wipe out other species because their food is disappearing, too, and we've got a major dieback.
In hundreds of years, or even 50, our world might become a bonefield. An optimistic outlook is 25%-50% of everything dead.
Truly a sobering book. One of the very best I've read on extinction events. Only, this one might be ours.
In this well-researched book, science writer Elizabeth Kolbert casts a strong light on the damage humans are doing to planet Earth. In one example Kolbert describes declining populations of the golden frog, which is rapidly disappearing from all its native habitats. Turns out humans have inadvertently spread a type of fungus that infects the skin of amphibians and kills them.
In another example, almost six million North American bats have (so far) died from a skin infection caused by a
In this well-researched book, science writer Elizabeth Kolbert casts a strong light on the damage humans are doing to planet Earth. In one example Kolbert describes declining populations of the golden frog, which is rapidly disappearing from all its native habitats. Turns out humans have inadvertently spread a type of fungus that infects the skin of amphibians and kills them.
In another example, almost six million North American bats have (so far) died from a skin infection caused by a different fungus, also accidentally spread by people.
North American Bats
Perhaps less ecologically-minded people might think "who cares about frogs and bats?" But all species on Earth are part of an interactive ecosystem, and the disappearance of any one organism might set off a domino effect that has unseen consequences down the line.
Moreover, these sad occurrences are just the teeny tip of a humongous iceberg when it comes to changes wrought by human activity.
Species extinction is not a recent phenomenon on Earth. In fact there have been five documented instances of mass extinctions (the disappearance of a large number of species in a short time) in the course of the planet's history. These are:
• The Ordovician-Silurian extinction, about 440 million years ago, thought to be caused by cycles of glaciation and melting.
Life at the Ordovician-Silurian Extinction
• The Late Devonian extinction, about 360-375 million years ago. The cause is unknown but some experts suggest periods of global cooling and glaciation.
Life at the Late Devonian Extinction
• The Permian-Triassic extinction, about 250 million years ago, which may have resulted from an asteroid impact or massive volcanic eruptions (or both). This was the largest extinction event in Earth's history, wiping out 95 percent of species living at the time.
Life at the Permian-Triassic Extinction
• The Triassic-Jurassic extinction, about 200-215 million years ago, apparently caused by colossal lava floods - and perhaps global warming - related to the breakup of Pangaea (a supercontinent made of all Earth's landmasses).
Life at the Triassic-Jurassic Extinction
• The Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction, about 66 million years ago, thought to be due to an asteroid impact. Evidence for this is the Chicxulub crater in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico. This extinction is well known in popular culture because it wiped out the dinosaurs.
Life at the Cretaceous-Paleogene Extinction
Each extinction event left vacant ecological niches and - over time - these were filled by the expansion of remaining species and the evolution of new organisms. Taking into account all the cycles of extinction and speciation in the planet's history, scientists speculate that 99.9 percent of species that lived on Earth are gone. Unfortunately, humans - by causing profound changes in Earth's ecosystems - may now be causing the sixth mass extinction. Examples of what humans are doing to Earth include:
• Burning fossil fuels, which adds CO2 to the atmosphere. This has a dual effect. It causes global warming, which affects the distribution (and survival) of plants and animals and it acidifies the oceans, causing calcite to dissolve. Thus, coral reefs are being destroyed and molluscs are getting holes in their shells.
• Destroying habitats to accommodate expanding human populations. This includes cutting down forests, constructing roads and buildings, and cultivating monoculture farms - all of which demolishes the homes of native organisms.
• Transferring organisms to new habitats. When people started moving from place to place they - purposely or not - took other organisms with them. For instance, brown rats - which seem to be indestructible - rode ships to almost every corner of the world, ravaging native species rabbits brought to Australia as food animals became one of the biggest pests on the continent brown snakes, introduced to Guam, wiped out nearly all the native birds and kudzu vines - introduced to the U.S. from Asia - cover and smother all vegetation in their path.
Kudzu smothers native vegetation
It's estimated that people are moving 10,000 species around the world every day, mostly in supertanker ship ballast. The consequences of this are potentially disastrous for indigenous plants and animals everywhere.
• Overharvesting and hunting animals to extinction. In the North Sea, Grand Banks of Newfoundland, and East China Sea, overfishing has severely depleted fish stocks.
In addition, many animals have been completely wiped out by humans, including the dodo, Tasmanian tiger, passenger pigeon, Steller's sea cow, and great auk (a flightless bird). In a sad anecdote Kolbert describes how - on July 3, 1844 - a hunter named Sigurður Ísleifsson strangled the world's last two great auks on Eldey Island, near Iceland.
In "The Sixth Extinction" Kolbert sounds the alarm about humans wreaking changes on Earth in the current era - dubbed the "Anthropocene."
With luck, Kolbert's book might help persuade concerned people to stop damaging the environment, curtail global warming, and save threatened species. Some measures are already in place: the U.S. has an "Endangered Species Act" designed to protect imperiled organisms international agreements have been made to alleviate global warming and "frozen zoos" store DNA from thousands of plants and animals, in hopes of resurrecting them if they disappear. Still, it may be too little too late.
As far as the Earth is concerned, a "sixth extinction" could be just another cataclysmic event from which the planet will gradually recover. For humans though. well. we might just wipe ourselves out in such a catastrophe. If so, something will inevitably take our place. Elizabeth Kolbert (half jokingly) suggests it might be giant intelligent rats (ha ha ha).
Some people think humans can counteract the harm we've done to the Earth. One "solution" for global warming, for example, involves spraying salt water into low-lying clouds, to enhance their ability to reflect sunlight. Even if this worked, though, it would solve only one problem of many. In the extreme case of irreparable harm to Earth, some optimists(?) believe the human race will survive by colonizing other planets. Only time will tell.
Kolbert's book is well-written, engaging, and personal - with anecdotes based on her own observations as well as interviews with scientists she accompanied on their research trips. I'd recommend this enlightening and interesting book to everyone interested in the Earth's future.
FYI: If you like the 'move to other planets' scenario you might enjoy the novel Seveneves by Neal Stephenson. which has a related theme.
“Though it might be nice to imagine there once was a time when man lived in harmony with nature, it’s not clear that he ever really did”—Elizabeth Kohlbert
I finally slow listened to this award-winning and depressing book written by a journalist who helps translate for scientists the truth of our current Anthropocene era:
The Anthropocene is a proposed epoch dating from the commencement of significant human impact on Earth&aposs ecosystems including, but not li “Though it might be nice to imagine there once was a time when man lived in harmony with nature, it’s not clear that he ever really did”—Elizabeth Kohlbert
I finally slow listened to this award-winning and depressing book written by a journalist who helps translate for scientists the truth of our current Anthropocene era:
The Anthropocene is a proposed epoch dating from the commencement of significant human impact on Earth's ecosystems including, but not limited to, anthropogenic climate change. It roughly dates back 12-15 K years when humans began to really impact the environment. Some folks refer to 1945 as beginning The Great Acceleration during which the socioeconomic and earth system trends are increasing dramatically, especially after WWII. What trends? The opposite of slow and small.
I know the basic facts of this book, that we are very much well under way in the sixth mass extinction in half a billion years. If this has always sounded a little distant and possibly comforting to us (oh, well, it’s happened before! It can happen again!), we miss the point:
"In pushing other species to extinction, humanity is busy sawing off the limb on which it perches"—Stanford ecologist Paul Ehrlich
"Warming today is taking place at least ten times faster than it did at the end of the last glaciation, and at the end of all those glaciations that preceded it. To keep up, organisms will have to migrate, or otherwise adapt, at least ten times more quickly."
In other words, it’s not just a lonely polar bear on a chunk of ice, very far away it is about us and not decades later, but now or never. Which is to say, we lose species every day, not every year, and when most of the planet species are gone by mid-century, as we now expect, we have to take very seriously the possibility of humankind’s extinction. And Rachel Carson, in Silent Spring (1962), told us but we didn’t really listen.
“We stand now where two roads diverge. But unlike the roads in Robert Frost’s familiar poem, they are not equally fair. The road we have long been traveling is deceptively easy, a smooth superhighway on which we progress with great speed, but at its end lies disaster. The other fork of the road—the one ‘less traveled by’—offers our last, our only chance to reach a destination that assures the preservation of our earth.” —Carson
“To argue that the current extinction event could be averted if people just cared more and were willing to make more sacrifices is not wrong, exactly still, it misses the point. It doesn’t much matter whether people care or don’t care. What matters is that people change the world. This capacity predates modernity”—Kohlbert . more
This book both awed and depressed me.
From page one, Kolbert writes an impressive survey of how destructive mankind has been to the planet. She gives a brief history of the five mass extinctions that have happened, and travels around the world to report on species that are currently going extinct. But the big problem now isn&apost a giant asteroid -- it&aposs humans. We are such a lethal force that we can unwittingly (or just greedily) wipe out entire species at alarming rates.
There are a lot of good st This book both awed and depressed me.
From page one, Kolbert writes an impressive survey of how destructive mankind has been to the planet. She gives a brief history of the five mass extinctions that have happened, and travels around the world to report on species that are currently going extinct. But the big problem now isn't a giant asteroid -- it's humans. We are such a lethal force that we can unwittingly (or just greedily) wipe out entire species at alarming rates.
There are a lot of good stories in this book, including the efforts of researchers who are desperately trying to save various species. I don't regularly read science books, but I'm glad I picked up this one. It's a good reminder of how important our environment is to our survival -- we need to do better of taking care of our planet. A lot better, if we want to survive another mass extinction.
Highly recommended for readers wanting a good overview of the subject.
(This intro is so great I had trouble deciding where to end it.)
Beginnings, it's said, are apt to be shadowy. So it is with this story, which starts with the emergence of a new species maybe two hundred thousand years ago. The species does not yet have a name -- nothing does -- but it has the capacity to name things.
As with any young species, this one's position is precarious. Its numbers are small, and its range restricted to a slice of eastern Africa. Slowly its population grows, but quite possibly then it contracts again -- some would claim nearly fatally -- to just a few thousand pairs.
The members of the species are not particularly swift or strong or fertile. They are, however, singularly resourceful. Gradually they push into regions with different climates, different predators, and different prey. None of the usual constraints of habitat or geography seem to check them. They cross rivers, plateaus, mountain ranges. In coastal regions, they gather shellfish farther inland, they hunt mammals. Everywhere they settle, they adapt and innovate. On reaching Europe, they encounter creatures very much like themselves, but stockier and probably brawnier, who have been living on the continent far longer. They interbreed with these creatures and then, by one means or another, kill them off.
The end of this affair will turn out to be exemplary. As the species expands its range, it crosses paths with animals twice, ten, and even twenty times its size: huge cats, towering bears, turtles as big as elephants, sloths that stand fifteen feet tall. These species are more powerful and often fiercer. But they are slow to breed and are wiped out.
Although a land animal, our species -- ever inventive -- crosses the sea. It reaches islands inhabited by evolution's outliers: birds that lay foot-long eggs, pig-sized hippos, giant skinks. Accustomed to isolation, these creatures are ill-equipped to deal with the newcomers or their fellow travelers (mostly rats). Many of them, too, succumb.
The process continues, in fits and starts, for thousands of years, until the species, no longer so new, has spread to practically every corner of the globe. At this point, several things happen more or less at once that allow Homo sapiens, as it has come to call itself, to reproduce at an unprecedented rate. In a single century the population doubles then it doubles again, and then again. Vast forests are razed. Humans do this deliberately, in order to feed themselves. Less deliberately, they shift organisms from one continent to another, reassembling the biosphere.
Meanwhile, an even stranger and more radical transformation is under way. Having discovered subterranean reserves of energy, humans begin to change the composition of the atmosphere. This, in turn, alters the climate and the chemistry of the oceans. Some plants and animals adjust by moving. They climb mountains and migrate toward the poles. But a great many - at first hundreds, then thousands, and finally perhaps millions -- find themselves marooned. Extinction rates soar, and the texture of life changes.
No creature has ever altered life on the planet in this way before, and yet other, comparable events have occurred. Very, very occasionally in the distant past, the planet has undergone change so wrenching that the diversity of life has plummeted. Five of these ancient events were catastrophic enough that they're put in their own category: the so-called Big Five. In what seems like a fantastic coincidence, but is probably no coincidence at all, the history of these events is recovered just as people come to realize that they are causing another one. When it is still too early to say whether it will reach the proportions of the Big Five, it becomes known as the Sixth Extinction.
(Rereading this intro gave me chills again. Kolbert is such a good writer. She's able to take complex scientific ideas and explain them to a layperson like me. That is an admirable skill.) . more
A well balanced tour of apparent causes for five past massive extinctions and for the current epoch of the human-caused “Sixth Extinction”. The relatively sudden acceleration of extinctions has a lot of consensus among scientists as defining a new age, the “Anthropocene”.
The author is a journalist who demonstrates a sound knowledge about how science works and its slow and contentious process of reaching consensus conclusions. She travels around the world to visit scientists and sites that are si A well balanced tour of apparent causes for five past massive extinctions and for the current epoch of the human-caused “Sixth Extinction”. The relatively sudden acceleration of extinctions has a lot of consensus among scientists as defining a new age, the “Anthropocene”.
The author is a journalist who demonstrates a sound knowledge about how science works and its slow and contentious process of reaching consensus conclusions. She travels around the world to visit scientists and sites that are significant in the history of discovery about extinctions, giving focus to specific species that illustrate themes and current issues. For some, putting herself into the picture represents a distraction, but I found the approach an engaging way to put the reader into the picture and humanizing the ecological scientists on the job.
I think all of us are a bit punch drunk over revelations in pieces. One decade we hear of coral dying, and as I recall I could drive on in life thinking that in remote ocean atolls, far from pollution, they will thrive. Another decade you will have heard about disappearing frogs. Sad, but not really bowled over, thinking maybe acid rain, which is getting better then it was some kind of fungus—then, okay, nothing to feel guilty about and maybe they will come back. In more recent years, the decimation of bats is one more blow, any human cause of the mystery obscure. Years later another weird fungus is identified as a cause. And over the long haul we have grown up with the background threats to survival among top predators like tigers, exotics like rhinos, and all the great apes, a progression obviously tied to human development and deforestation, and illegal hunting. All that leaves me praying sufficient reserves and parks (and zoos) can put their end on pause.
All this bad news sits heavy in a jumble. Why Kolbert is a boon with this is by accommodating lots of individual cases in the frame of a big picture. And then she gives emerging themes some life through stories from the work of current and historical scientists. The first inferences of extinctions by Cuvier, the geological gradualism of Lyell linked by Darwin to the slow succession of species outcompeting others. Geological epochs on the order of 100 million years get tied to massive changes in the fossil record, which eventually are recognized as mass extinction events and not an ordinary process of natural selection. Major environmental changes of varying types are being applied to the five major mass extinctions. For the last big transition, there was nothing gradual about it. The history of the father and son team, Luis and Walter Alvarez, pursuing against great resistance the asteroid theory for the disappearance the dinosaurs is nicely told by Kolbert.
An older idea for demise of the dinosaurs
And now if you begin add up all the extinctions in our current epoch, it begins to approximate the scale of some of these ancient patterns. The background rate of vertebrate extinctions has been estimated as on the order of one per several hundred years, but these days we’re talking about thousands of times faster.
Here is a short summary of the major conclusions
There have been very long uneventful stretches and very occasionally revolution on the surface of the earth. To the extent we can identify the causes of these revolutions, they’re highly varies: glaciation in the case of the end-Ordovician extinction, global warming and changes in ocean chemistry at the end of the Permian, an asteroid impact in the final seconds of the Cretaceous. The current extinction has its own novel cause: not an asteroid or a massive volcanic eruption, but “one weedy species.”
She catches me in a relatively ignorant state about the impact of global warming on the acceleration of species extinctions. Like many of us, the threat of global warming on a limited number of arctic mammals dominated my conception of impact (the image of the polar bear on the melting ice is iconic). I missed out on climate change impact in the tropical latitudes. For example, the loss of corals, and all the species that depend on their reefs, is global due to ocean acidification tied directly to the rise of CO2 in the atmosphere (a small rise in pH is enough to hinders the metabolic precipitation of calcium into calcium carbonate). It’s happening too fast for the coral to adapt and evolve in step with the changes.
I also never conceived that modest temperature changes could change the balance of competition in the local environment of tropical ecologies and cause extinctions. Tropical areas are hit harder in terms of species loss, partly because that is where the lion’s share (so to speak) of species reside. While there are only 5,550 mammals, there are zillions of invertebrates and plants, and they are incredibly specialized in the tropics (and the vast majority remain unidentified). My picture of warm climate species just advancing en masse to higher latitudes as the earth warms does not conform to reality. A long-term research site in the Peruvian Amazon shows how many species just don’t make the translocation (especially trees and species that depend on them). And studies at isolated plots of wilderness in Brazil reveal the adverse effects of fragmentation of ecologies,
Part of the big picture that this book helps me with arises from moving the camera back on the time scale for the Anthropocene epoch. If you just consider the industrial age and global warming, you are led to think in terms of the last century or two. But from the time of Darwin, there were already reasoned arguments that man was likely responsible for the global loss of the so-called megafauna, i.e. critters like mastodons, mammoths, cave bears, giant elk, saber-tooth tigers, ground sloths (and a whole weird set in Australia). Thus, it is fair to put the boundary of the new age as far back as the middle of the last ice age. On the same scale, it seems likely that Homo sapiens did away with the Neanderthals (though some hybridizing through interbreeding modifies that picture a bit). A brilliant Swede working in Germany was able from DNA analysis of bones to identify two other humanoids that lost out in the final race to the future (hobbit sized Homo florsiensis and the Denisovans).
Another man-caused impact on species loss is tied to the “Columbian Exchange”, which since 1492 involves worldwide transportation of species. The invasive species cause extinctions when in the new environment they no longer have their usual predators. Kolbert explains how this “New Pangaea” results in loss of biodiversity. Creatures like rats turn out to be the big winners. It’s nice that the New World got earthworms for the first time from Europe, but who knows what they displaced. When a fungus out of the blue takes out frogs worldwide and bats in a fast spreading wave, invasive species linked to human activity rises to the fore in theories of likely cause.
Somehow I will have to digest her grim summary points:
It is estimated that one-third of all reef-building corals, a third of all fresh water mollusks, a third of all sharks and rays, a quarter of all mammals, a fifth of all reptiles, and a sixth of all birds are headed toward oblivion.
What matters is that people change the world.
This capacity predates modernity, though, of course, modernity is its fulfilled expression. Indeed, this capacity is probably indistinguishable from the qualities that make us human to begin with: our restlessness, our creativity, our ability to cooperate to solve problems and complete complicated tasks.
If you want to grieve over lost species, I recommend Cokinos’ Hope Is the Thing with Feathers: A Personal Chronicle of Vanished Birds. If you want to travel with a writer to visit and glory in what of endangered species can still be experienced in natural environments, I hope you try Safina’s The View from Lazy Point: A Natural Year in an Unnatural World. If you are ready to face up to the pickle we are in, try learning more of the inconvenient truths through this book.