The Diversity Of Life By Edward O. Wilson

2426 words - 10 pages

In The Diversity of Life, Edward O. Wilson reflects on how the living world became diverse and how humans are destroying that diversity. In the book’s preface, Wilson defines biodiversity as “the totality of inherited variation in all organisms in a selected area” (Wilson ix). He adds that modern technology will allow for us to find many new species that were previously unknown to be in existence.

The first section of the book is titled “Violent Nature, Resilient Life.” In the beginning of this section, Wilson recalls one of his trips to the Amazon rainforest, during which an electric thunderstorm in the middle of the night created an incredible display of biodiversity. He says that he has kept going back to this area for almost forty years, as the amount of diversity there almost guarantees that he will discover new species upon each visit. Wilson then states the importance of biodiversity: “It is diversity by which life builds and saturates the rain forest. And diversity has carried life beyond, to the harshest environments on Earth” (Wilson 11). He later adds that biodiversity is the key to the survival of the world as we know it. In order to back up these claims, he cites Krakatau, an island near Indonesia that was bombarded by a series of volcanic eruptions in 1883. Although much of the life seemed to disappear at the time, it soon grew back, and today there are not many visible clues that a disturbance of that magnitude ever occurred. In the following chapter, Wilson discusses extreme disturbances (such as the meteor that killed all the dinosaurs), saying that although they have the potential to drive many species extinct, the level of diversity in affected areas always recovers, as they allow other species to flourish.

The second part of the book is named “Biodiversity Rising,” as Wilson talks about how the world’s massive diversity came to be. He explains that every species is evolving at a different rate, and this creates a constant need for other species to adapt and interbreed, thus creating more species and further adding biodiversity to the planet. He goes on to say that he firmly disagrees with the biological species concept, which defines a species as members of populations that can potentially interbreed. Wilson then credits allopatric speciation (when a species is split in half geographically and therefore branches out into two different species) with helping to preserve biodiversity. An example of this is birds in the Hawaii who separate themselves by flying from one island to another and therefore create divergences among the population. He mentions that another way to achieve diversity is through chromosomal mutations. This type of speciation occurs very quickly, and can therefore be very helpful for preserving diversity. Wilson then goes on to discuss the forces behind evolution, focusing mainly on natural selection. He then shifts his focus to adaptive radiation, which can be defined as “the spread of...

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