The Work of Nature

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Biodiversity is more than a species count. It is the measure of the health and vitality of an ecosystem. In THE WORK OF NATURE: HOW THE DIVERSITY OF LIFE SUSTAINS US, noted science writer Yvonne Baskin compiles ecological research to demonstrate how human activity threatens to upset the dynamics of the planet’s major ecosystems. Ecology is community and, as Baskin notes in her subtitle, a healthy diversity of life sustains us and all other life. Biodiversity includes the complexity, richness, and abundance of life on all levels. Throughout the world, human activities have threatened the air and water quality, soil fertility, and vitality of natural communities.

In THE WORK OF NATURE, Baskin tries to assess the consequences of accelerating losses in biodiversity. Instead of examining ecosystems in terms of the economic goods they provide, she measures biodiversity in terms of providing essential ecological “services,” such as clean air and water, fertile soil, and a climatological balance, upon which humans depend. What will happen to these resources as biodiversity diminishes? What will be the consequences of shrunken and impoverished ecosystems? How will the essential cleansing and recycling services of nature be maintained?

Baskin’s study was commissioned by the Science Committee on Problems of the Environment (SCOPE), an international scientific organization with thirty-eight member nations. She was able to incorporate the latest research findings at the time of publication on coral reefs, tropical forests, deserts, and tundra, and the results are disturbing. As keystone species are lost and the web of life disintegrates, fragile ecosystems are being pushed beyond the point at which they can regenerate. Since no direct research has been done on the impact of biological loss on ecological resources, Baskin’s work is timely and important. THE WORK OF NATURE offers new insights about the interrelationship between biodiversity and ecological functions.