The Amber Forest: A Reconstruction of a Vanished World.

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9780691057286: The Amber Forest: A Reconstruction of a Vanished World.

In Jurassic Park, amber fossils provided the key to bringing dinosaurs back to life. Scientists in the movie extracted dinosaur blood from mosquitoes preserved for millions of years in amber--hardened tree resin--and used the blood's DNA to revive the creatures that terrified audiences around the globe. In this book, George and Roberta Poinar use amber for a similar act of revival--only they bring back an entire ecosystem. The Poinars are world leaders in the study of amber fossils and have spent years examining the uniquely rich supply that has survived from the ancient forests of the Dominican Republic. They draw on their research here to reconstruct in words, drawings, and spectacular color photographs the ecosystem that existed on the island of Hispaniola between fifteen and forty-five million years ago. The result is the most accurate picture scientists have yet produced of any tropical forest of the past.

The specimens examined by the Poinars reflect amber's extraordinary qualities as a medium for preservation. Millions of years ago, countless plants, invertebrates, and small vertebrates were trapped in the sticky resin that flowed from the trees of ancient forests and, as that resin hardened into translucent, golden amber, they were preserved in almost perfect condition. Samples analyzed and illustrated here include a wide range of insects and plants--many now extinct--as well as such vertebrates as frogs, lizards, birds, and small mammals. There are even frozen scenes of combat: an assassin bug grappling with a stingless bee, for example, and a spider attacking a termite. By examining these plants and animals and comparing them to related forms that exist today, the authors shed new light on the behavior of these organisms as well as the environment and climate in which they lived and died.

The Poinars present richly detailed drawings of how the forests once appeared. They discuss how and when life colonized Hispaniola and what caused some forms to become extinct. Along the way, they describe how amber is formed, how and where it has been preserved, and how it is mined, sold, and occasionally forged for profit today. The book is a beautifully written and produced homage to a remarkable, vanished world.

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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 the Back Cover:

"The authors demonstrate great knowledge of many fascinating biological and socioeconomic aspects of amber. They write well and convey their enthusiasm for the subject with skill. The book is engaging and educational."--Peter Grant, Princeton University, author of Ecology and Evolution of Darwin's Finches

"The book provides a clearly written summary of the biota of the Dominican Amber deposits, with a focus upon the insects."--Bruce H. Tiffney, University of California, Santa Barbara

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