Edward O. Wilson

Penguin, London, 1994.

The pages of this beautifully written book teem with staggering statistics, so I start with one very telling example of the bewildering diversity he writes about, concerning some Norwegian microbiological research:

"between 4000 and 5000 bacterial species were found in a single gram of beech-forest soil. A similar number of species, with little or no overlap, was found in a gram of sediment from shallow water off the Norway coast." (p.136)

Wilson offers a rough calculation that, if each of the possible total 100 million of species on Earth were given a page in an encyclopaedia, the volumes would fill 6 kilometres of shelving (p.143).

Moving from quantity to complexity, consider these adaptations:

"A mite has been found that lives entirely on the blood it sucks from the hind feet of the soldier caste of one kind of South American army ant. Tiny wasps are known whose larvae parasitize the larvae of still other kinds of wasps that live inside the bodies of the caterpillars of certain species of moths that feed on certain kinds of plants that live on other plants." (p.165)

This is not just a scientific account of biodiversity but an eloquent plea that we recognize its value and understand the tremendous damage currently being done as the market system carries out its lovely work across eco-systems world-wide.




Paul Taylor 2001