From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. In 1992, the Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Medical School agreed to coordinate a massive, international scientific effort under the direction of Nobel Peace Prize-winning scientist and author Chivian (Critical Condition: Human Health and the Environment) to catalog "what was known about how other species contribute to human health." The result of that extraordinary collaboration, involving more than 100 contributors, is this thorough volume, an invaluable resource for policy makers and a fascinating exploration for general readers of their hyper-connected biosphere. Species diversity, it turns out, acts as a kind of insurance policy for humans, by buffering stresses to the environment. The "mosaic of ecosystems" provide "services" (food, timber, air and water purification, waste decomposition, climate regulation) necessary for life that, due to their complexity and scale, are almost impossible to substitute. Naturally, the system is robust but vulnerable: the vultures of southern Asia, for instance, are threatened with extinction because their natural diet-carrion-has been poisoned with medicine routinely prescribed for livestock and humans. Another "service" contributed by the ecosystem is the highly useful E. coli bacteria, used in biomedical research to develop new medications and provide insight into Alzheimer's and other diseases. This book represents a landmark addition to our understanding of our ecological heritage, and the importance of preserving it. 175 color illus.
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A collaborative survey of biodiversity issues written and/or reviewed for accuracy by more than 100 scientists, this volume is motivated by its UN sponsors’ sense of the world populace’s indifference to the consequences of environmental degradation. Conceiving that implicating human health with the health of other species may enlist its concern, the authors collectively warn that present extinction rates are abnormally high. Seven categories of endangered species stand in as portents of the dire effects to ecosystems when extinction occurs. One chapter’s discussion about the pharmaceutical value of species in the wild warns of irreparable impairment of medical discovery whenever a species expires. Such unaccounted benefits of biodiversity amount to this volume’s major theme: the free “ecosystem services,” such as cleanliness and fecundity, furnished to watersheds and soils. Criticizing modern, industrial-scale marine fishing and agricultural practices, this volume holds forth organic farming as a viable alternative and offers readers an action list of things to do and organizations to join. Abundantly illustrated, this is a valuable, urgent resource suited to any general-interest library. --Gilbert Taylor