THE MACHINERY OF NATURE

Paul Ehrlich

London, 1988.


To begin with, let's eat:

"Ecologists usually consider, as a rule of thumb, that about 10% of the energy that flows into one trophic level is available to the next. Thus, if green plants in an area manage to capture 10 000 units of energy from the sun, only about 1000 units will be available to support herbivores, and only about 100 to support carnivores. This means, for instance, that roughly 10 times as many people can survive eating a corn crop as can survive eating cattle that have been fed on the corn." (p.254)

Then there's sex:

"contrary to some religious dogma, the 'purpose' of sex is not reproduction. As the life histories of many organisms show, reproduction is a great deal easier without sex...One important function of sex in all organisms is recombination, but in many animals, including human beings, sex also has a variety of additional social functions." (p.64)

According to the Red Queen hypothesis,

"Sex (and recombination) is... the only way that a population can keep running fast enough - especially to stay ahead of pathogens, which can rapidly evolve the ability to breach an organism's immunological defences." (p.82)

"The Machinery of Nature" is a very readable introduction to the crucial science of ecology.



"I saw some beasts with two backs, and those seemed to me the merriest creatures in the world. They were most nimble at wriggling the buttocks, and more diligent in tail-wagging than any water-wagtails, perpetually jogging and shaking their double rumps."
Rabelais, Gargantua and Pantagruel, 5/30

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