Good popular books about ecology?


A friend asked the other day about recommendations for good popular books about ecology. Initially, I kind of drew a blank. Which surprised me.

I think there are plenty of great popular books about evolution – the first one that comes to mind is Beak of the Finch(I realize it’s more than 20 years old, but gosh, it holds up well.) And in the field of animal behavior you have a whole bunch, too – one that first came to my mind is Ravens in Winter (again, not the newest book, I realize).

But for ecology? Hmmm. The first one that I thought of is a bit obvious, A Sand County AlmanacThis has aged well, but doesn’t quite describe the contemporary field of ecology. I was also thinking of Rob Dunn’s The Wild Life of Our Bodies – and even more so, the forthcoming Never Out of Season will totally fit this bill.

I can think of many great natural history books. I was hoping to find a book that is principally about ecology and the people that do ecology.

I asked about this on twitter, and the community provided a great conversation, some bits of which are below. I realized, well, yes, there are plenty of books about contemporary ecology.

I’d like to use the comments for y’all to contribute your thoughts about good general books about ecology – please add your thoughts!

So, what do you think? If you were teaching about ecology to non-majors, for example, what nonfiction book would you want to read?


Recommended reads #95


In the United States, a woman died a few months ago of a bacterial infection. This microbe was resistant to all antibiotics available in the US that we were capable of throwing at it.

A paper came out this week, looking at predictors of publication rates among 280 graduate students accepted and enrolled into a biomedical grad program. And — shocker, I know — grades and standardized test scores didn’t matter. The best predictor was the content of the letters of recommendation. You want to know which undergraduates have the greatest research potential? Listen to their undergraduate mentors. Here’s a drugmonkey post about this paper.

When I talk about climate change, I don’t talk about science. I’m (probably) not your dad or your boss or your professor so I can’t assign this to you or tell you to read it, but I do think this is a must-read.

State lawmakers in Missouri and Iowa are looking to get rid of tenure.

Peer review is not broken.

With enough evidence, skepticism [may] thaw. (But denial, not so much.)

Even more evidence about the unfair biases that manifest in student evaluations of teaching. This experimental design is rather elegant.

What scares [him] about teaching students with ideologies not adequately grounded in fact.

Why AntWeb images are not free.

You will want to read this melancholy story about the sparrow with four sexes.

A burrowing owl shows up in MacArthur Park. Which is a tiny little patch of nature in the middle of a heavily urbanized area. So cool.

Think you have fire ants but aren’t sure? Now there’s a 10-minute test for this, much like a pregnancy test. (Fortunately, you don’t have to try to coax the ant to pee on a stick, you just squish it.)

Lindy West explains why she left twitter.

The governor of New York announced a plan to provide free tuition to state colleges and universities for low(ish) income students (those whose families earn less than $125,000 per year). Some folks were trying to claim that this wasn’t a good thing for those students, but fortunately, Sara Goldrick-Rab is there to set those folks straight. Of course it’s a good thing.

The Rusty-Patched Bumblebee gets listed as endangered. We still do have an Endangered Species Act in effect, and we still have an Environmental Protection Agency, for at least another week.

The contemporary American university, in seven emails.

Using Slack in the classroom.

The site of George Lucas’s massive Museum of the Narrative Art has been announced, in the exposition park of Los Angeles, adjacent to the Natural History Museum of LA County (where I’m sabbaticaling). Exposition Park is becoming even more of a destination.

Scientific American blog network published a guest post from a guy who did research on the physiology of shrimp that got a lot of bad press from anti-science Republicans as “Shrimp on a treadmill.” Most notable about this guest post was that the editors initially ran the piece with a horribly sexist and wholly creepy line about how the author leers at students of his peers while they are doing fieldwork. They promptly edited the piece, but it never should have gone to press. (And if you’re a marine biologist, you probably want to watch out for this guy.)

A sexually harassing faculty member returned to teaching at UCLA, and was greeted by huge protests outside his classroom, loud enough that the classes were cancelled.

How Stanford is failing to protect its own students from assaults on campus.

I imagine nearly all biologists know the historical story of PCR. If you don’t, then here you go. If you do, then I think this is a particularly well-crafted version of the story.

The National Review (a conservative publication) writes, “I guess we’re not going to make a fuss about that.

This is why you don’t kiss the ring.

Did inadequate healthcare destroy Star Wars’ Old Republic?

Here’s a nice profile of John Prine in Rolling Stone.

A message for my doomed colleagues in the American media.

An excerpt from They Thought They Were Free.

Why this monkey had sex with a deer. (spoiler: he was horny).

Planet Earth II did not help the natural world

How nostalgia for white Christian America drove so many people to vote for Trump. (Just in case you are still harboring the notion that this was about economic policy and free trade.)

Folks have been saying that Rex Tillerson has completely severed financial ties with his oil company if/when he becomes Secretary of State. But, that’s not true. The day he quits, he could go back as CEO.

Here’s a science-friendly Republican who we should get to know: John Culberson.

What it’s like being a sane person on the House Science Committee.

New information comes out about how Nixon was even worse than we thought: he secretly undermined peace talks so that he could win the election in 1968.

Here’s another person to watch: my new senator, Kamala Harris. Who is awesome.

Putin’s real long game.

Have a great weekend, folks. (By the way, if you happen to be around South Island, I’ll be heading your way and sticking around for a few weeks. I’ll be flipping over lots of rocks, but I promise to put them back.)


Recommended reads #93


An argument for the funding of basic research makes it into the Wall Street Journal.

One way to teach critical thinking is to take a historical issue (in history, science, whatever) and look at the debates surrounding the issue by the people of the time, and then asking, “Who was right?” (I found this via Tavish Bell’s twitter account, where I see consistently interesting stuff about higher ed.)

The abduction of tortoise #1721 Continue reading


Recommended reads #92


Caring isn’t coddling: “While I’m not without gallows humor and can enjoy an ‘it’s in the syllabus’ joke as much as the next person, I also feel deeply that the best teaching arises in faculty-student relationships that are mutually respectful and that mutually honor the worth each side is bringing to the table.”

A shark that was (maybe) choking on a massive chunk of moose was (maybe) saved by a couple guys. Continue reading


Recommended reads #89


A couple truly spectacular reads have already made the rounds in social media in the last week, but in case you haven’t caught them, be sure to do so:

First, the Washington Post published a long-form piece about Derek Black, former media star of white nationalists who grew to repudiate his views. How did this happen? The free exchange of ideas and mutual respect found in higher education. If you’re looking for a defense of a liberal arts education (which can be found in potentially any university), then this might be as great as it gets.

Second, the Arizona Republic editorial staff received many death threats because they endorsed a particular presidential candidate. (Okay, a let’s all take moment to breathe, to absorb this fact.) The response from the publisher is powerful and important.

How you might change as a professor as you get older. Continue reading


Recommended reads #88


Without tenure, professors become terrified sheep.

The terrorist inside my husband’s brain. This piece by Robin Williams’s widow, written for practicing neurologists, is an important read for all of us.

Why people wince at talk of “flipping classrooms.” This phrase has pretty much lost any specific meaning or utility, and that’s why I haven’t really used it. I’m a fan of active learning approaches but not a fan of flipping sensu stricto. Continue reading

Recommended reads #84


Are you familiar with the work of the Holotypic Occlupanid Research Group? I applaud their dedication and excellence in chronicling the diversity and natural history of this unappreciated yet widespread taxon. This is where the line between science and art is invisible.

Women are woven deeply into the history of science, stretching back to ancient Egypt, over 4,000 years ago. But because their contributions often go unacknowledged, they fade into obscurity—and the threads of their influence today aren’t as apparent as they ought to be.” I’d like to call this one early: We’ll be looking back at Dr. Emily Temple-Wood as the person who rewrote the history of scientific discovery.

Racism in the research lab. This post, from two scientists from prestigious institutions, is important. Continue reading


Recommended reads #83


New Zealand is developing detailed plans to eradicate every exotic predator, including feral cats, rats, and weasels.

How women are harassed out of science. Let’s be clear about this: It’s not just that scientific institutions and individual scientists are implicitly biased against women. That is true, but on top of all that, direct harassment itself drives women out of science. Not convinced this is true? Then please please please read this story. Continue reading


Recommended reads #79


Things the world’s most and least privileged people say. Including “I don’t vote — the system is too corrupt!”

A comprehensive and entrancing visualization of wind, weather and ocean conditions around the world. A data-rich lava lamp.

NIH gave an endowment to San Diego State University. Not a grant or a contract, but an endowment. This is a thing?

How to build a society of equally involved parents Continue reading


Recommended reads #78


IMG_0092Who wore it better? David Bowie or nudibranch?  This is fabulous, in the classic sense of the word.

This is a compelling read about the most accomplished woman climber of Everest. And the compelling part isn’t so much about Everest.

Pros and cons of teaching in an active learning classroom.

The tighter the money, the less innovative the science. This is a convincing argument. Continue reading


Recommended reads #77


Natural history: an approach whose time as come, passed, and needs to be resurrected.

A reconsideration of “new conservation.” Also, if you’re not familiar, this has an explanation of what “new conservation” is. Man, conservation biology is an ideological and theoretical and practical mess. Holy crap. I’m not a fan of Mongabay for a variety of reasons, but this seems worthwhile.

This has really made the rounds because it’s fascinating, if not a surprise: Continue reading

Recommended reads #76


Cards against humanities. You read that right, not humanity, Humanities.

This Puliter Prize-winning story by Kathryn Schulz about The Really Big One that will arrive in the Pacific Northwest. The letter for its entry into the Pulitzer competition said, “Schulz’s piece brings the seismological science to you, making it as plain and painless as a cake recipe. Yet it also leaves you with a visceral sense of what a full-margin Cascadian earthquake could feel like–and what its human toll could be. No surprise that the story has at last focused public attention on the need for precautionary measures. As of this writing, the piece–many months after publication–remains perched high on our Web site’s Most Read list. ‘The Really Big One’ brilliantly demonstrates how feature writing–drawing upon reporting, research, and most of all, the well-judged potency of prose–can rock our world.” So, yeah, read this article.

College professors aren’t that creepy. (Notwithstanding recent revelations from UC Berkeley further down this list.) Obviously, clowns are creepy. Gotta disagree about taxidermists though.Whoiscreepy

Continue reading