Animal migration is a magnificent sight: a mile-long blanket of cranes rising from a Nebraska river and filling the sky; hundreds of thousands of wildebeests marching across the Serengeti; a blaze of orange as millions of monarch butterflies spread their wings to take flight. Nature's great migrations have captivated countless spectators, none more so than premier ecologist David S. Wilcove. In No Way Home, his awe is palpable--as are the growing threats to migratory animals. We may be witnessing a dying phenomenon among many species. Migration has always been arduous, but today's travelers face unprecedented dangers. Skyscrapers and cell towers lure birds and bats to untimely deaths, fences and farms block herds of antelope, salmon are caught en route between ocean and river, breeding and wintering grounds are paved over or plowed, and global warming disrupts the synchronized schedules of predators and prey. The result is a dramatic decline in the number of migrants. Wilcove guides us on their treacherous journeys, describing the barriers to migration and exploring what compels animals to keep on trekking. He also brings to life the adventures of scientists who study migrants. Often as bold as their subjects, researchers speed wildly along deserted roads to track birds soaring overhead, explore glaciers in search of frozen locusts, and outfit dragonflies with transmitters weighing less than one one-hundredth of an ounce. Scientific discoveries and advanced technologies are helping us to understand migrations better, but alone, they won't stop sea turtles and songbirds from going the way of the bison or passenger pigeon. What's required is the commitment and cooperation of the far-flung countries migrants cross--long before extinction is a threat. As Wilcove writes, "protecting the abundance of migration is key to protecting the glory of migration." No Way Home offers powerful inspiration to preserve those glorious journeys.
"In this important and exceptionally well written book, a leading wildlife biologist shows how human activity is not just erasing species and ecosystems but also cutting the ancient natural highways that make possible Earth's greatest wildlife spectacles."--E. O. Wilson "University Professor Emeritus, Harvard University "
If you've ever wished that your favorite nature article in National Geographic would go on for longer, No Way Home is the book for you. David Wilcove, one of the most respected conservation biologists in North America, vividly describes wildlife migrations from oceans to the skies and from dense Neotropical forests to open African grasslands. His facts are unimpeachable and his stories are utterly absorbing.
The seven chapters in No Way Home draw readers into the adventures of songbirds, monarch butterflies, great herds of ungulates, marine mammals, sea turtles, anadromous fishes, and more. We are treated to inside views of a National Wildlife Refuge in Florida, great northwestern rivers, the spectacular Masai Mara, and urban parks close to the hearts of local residents. Wilcove's commitment to conserving the mysterious phenomena of migration is clear, yet his tone is never preachy. Instead, he presents a straightforward explanation of why the legacy of human settlement and growth makes it difficult for animals to complete their life's journey. Tales of goofy ecologists, dedicated politicians, and even an intrepid author enliven the text. The book's tone is conversational. Threads of discussion range widely, but never lose cohesion.
Wilcove's message is realistic - climate change and economic pressures complicate dispersal for many creatures. Nevertheless, numerous innovative partnerships among conservationists, management agencies, and private citizens successfully have protected key habitats for migratory species. Such cooperative agreements also protect ecological processes that promote social equity and human well-being.
No Way Home is a fine read for outdoor enthusiasts, armchair tourists, and professional scientists alike. It is suitable for virtually all ages and political philosophies. The only drawback to the book is its lack of glossy photographs. For that, you'll need to renew the Geographic subscription.
Tearing Up the Web2008/3/11
No Way Home: The Decline of the World's Great Animal Migrations by David Wilcove is a book about the disruption of animal migration routes. In the introduction, Wilcove lists the four major problems. First is habitat destruction which may be at either end of the journey or at rest points along the route. Second, obstructions such as dams, roads, fences, cell towers. Third, overexploitation meaning hunting for food by more 'advanced' methods than traditionally used, such as miles long drift nets in the ocean.
Most interesting, most unpredictable, and most out of our control, climate change which can affect ecological relationships in many ways as species (plant and animal) which depend on each other for food, pollination, etc. react differently to rapid changes. An example is given involving when oaks leaf out, determining what the tannin (a defense against insects) level of the leaf will be when a moth is ready to lay eggs on it and when those eggs become caterpillars. Will migrating bird species arrive at the proper time to eat some of those eggs or caterpillars? If they get there too late, they'll not only be going hungry but the forest will be damaged by the larger population of moths.
From the air come the bird migrations of course, and one of those fascinating cases of pulling one strand of the web and finding everything else connected: the rapidly declining population of red knots (a bird which breeds in northern Canada and winters in South America) was discovered to be caused by increased taking of horseshoe crabs by humans in the Delaware Bay area. Eating horseshoe crab eggs was a very important stop on the birds' migration route. The author also looks at the migrations of monarch butterflies, grasshoppers, and dragonflies.
On land, there's a chapter on Africa which I skipped, and one primarily dealing with bison. This chapter includes discussion of the only remaining wild herd in its native range, which is in Yellowstone. Because many of these bison carry brucellosis, if they dare to leave the park on a seasonal migration due to snow at higher elevations, they are shot to prevent possible infection of local cattle. The irony here is that this disease was first introduced to North America via cattle imported from Europe.
From the water, we get discussions of whales, salmon, and most interestingly to me, sea turtles. Living at sea but laying eggs on beaches, the turtles have to deal with the worst of both worlds--fishing gear and shoreline development. At sea, they'll also eat plastic, mistaking it for the jellyfish they prefer. Turtles living near areas with large human populations are also developing tumors believed to be related to human pollution. As more humans live by the shore, more raccoons and other turtle egg eaters follow them. For millions of years newly hatched sea turtles have headed for the brightest spot at night--the ocean. Now that brightest spot is often a porch or street light.
Looming ahead for them to deal with are the effects of global warming. Rising sea levels may eliminate the beaches they return to for nesting. If they do manage to nest, the incubation temperature of their eggs determines the sex of the hatchling; in most species, higher temperatures will result in females. This has been observed even within a nest: the warmer central eggs will produce females while the eggs on the cooler edges will become males.
A very good summary of the problems other species face in dealing with our dominance of the planet, at its best when exploring the many and obscure ways in which everything is connected.
An important & engaging book2008/3/3
In his second book, No Way Home: The Decline of the World's Great Animal Migrations, David Wilcove renders an excellent account of an imperiled phenomenon most of us take for granted: migration. With one eye on the perils migrating creatures face and his other eye on the wonders of their journeys, the author both informs and entertains us. He sits front seat on a white-knuckle, high speed car chase after tagged dragonflies, wanders African plains in search of a million of wildebeests, and more. This book is as important as it is readable--a call to save not only breeding habitat for animals as diverse as butterflies and wildebeasts, but also to protect their winter homes and stopover sites between.
Migration like you've never thought of it before2009/4/19
This is an incredibly well-written and engaging book that not only opens up your thinking about migrations to include insects, fish, and mammals along with birds, but it brings into sharp focus the losses of migratory species and behavior that have already occurred. Wilcove really made me think even more about why protecting large intact ecosystems like the Boreal is important.
Jeff Wells author, Birder's Conservation Handbook Birder's Conservation Handbook: 100 North American Birds at Risk
An excellent book!2009/7/1
David Wilcove does an excellent job with this book. Animal migration is a fascinating topic, and there is much we still do not know about it. Wilcove describes in very readable detail the intricacies of migration of a variety of species and the conservation challenges they (and we) face. It is well suited for non-scientists who are interested in animal migration, but scientists interested in the topic will certainly not be disappointed.