Long thought to be unique to the Baltic region, amber--fossilized tree sap, often bearing the remains of ancient plants and animals--is widely distributed throughout the world. Here entomologists George and Roberta Poinar take readers on a tour of one out-of-the-way amber bed, located in the rainforest of the Dominican Republic, that formed over a period between 45 and 15 million years ago. This particular amber, formed mostly from the pungent sap of the algarrobo tree, attracted many curious creatures, including stingless bees and scorpions, as well as bits and pieces of material that happened to be floating by: hairs from a long-extinct Antillean rhinoceros and a saber-toothed tiger, spider webs, and seeds from plants that now take on slightly different forms. The Poinars' findings show that the prehistoric Antilles region, formed from large-scale volcanic and tectonic events, has declined in biodiversity, and they help give a more complete picture of the ancient climate than has hitherto been available.
The Poinars catalog the Dominican remains in great detail, and general readers may find their descriptions to make for slow going. But readers with some knowledge of or interest in paleontology, as well as collectors of amber specimens, will likely be fascinated by the window into the distant past that the New World amber affords. --Gregory McNamee
From Publishers Weekly
Millions of years ago, entire insects, small animals and plants were trapped within the resin produced by ancient tropical algaroba trees. As the millennia passed, the resin solidified, perfectly fossilizing all ensnared within it. This fossilized resin, also known as amber, provides a unique opportunity to examine extinct organisms. The husband-and-wife Poinars (The Quest for Life in Amber; he's an entomologist at Oregon State University; she's an electron microscopist) specialize in studying the extinct organisms trapped in amber. Using data gathered by surveying a large collection of amber-embedded fossils from the Dominican Republic, they have been able to reconstruct the tropical forest ecosystem that dominated the island of Hispaniola 15 million to 45 million years ago. The Poinars' research proves "the long-term stability of host-parasite, predatory-prey and symbiotic associations" and "demonstrates how important past climactic patterns are in determining the present distribution of plants and animals." Though their prose can be overly academic (with the exception of the imaginative prologue), their descriptions of the interactions among the ancient biota are captivating. The text is richly complemented by 190 photographs and drawings by the authors, many depicting insects frozen in time. (July)
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