The human love of novelty and desire to make one place look like another, coupled with massive increases in global trade and transport, are creating a growing economic and ecological threat. The same forces that are rapidly "McDonaldizing" the world's diverse cultures are also driving us toward an era of monotonous, weedy, and uniformly impoverished landscapes. Unique plant and animal communities are slowly succumbing to the world's "rats and rubbervines" -- animals like zebra mussels and feral pigs, and plants like kudzu and water hyacinth -- that, once moved into new territory, can disrupt human enterprise and well-being as well as native habitats and biodiversity.
From songbird-eating snakes in Guam to cheatgrass in the Great Plains, "invasives" are wreaking havoc around the world. In A Plague of Rats and Rubbervines, widely published science writer Yvonne Baskin draws on extensive research to provide an engaging and authoritative overview of the problem of harmful invasive alien species. She takes the reader on a worldwide tour of grasslands, gardens, waterways, and forests, describing the troubles caused by exotic organisms that run amok in new settings and examining how commerce and travel on an increasingly connected planet are exacerbating this oldest of human-created problems. She offers examples of potential solutions and profiles dedicated individuals worldwide who are working tirelessly to protect the places and creatures they love.
While our attention is quick to focus on purposeful attempts to disrupt our lives and economies by releasing harmful biological agents, we often ignore equally serious but much more insidious threats, those that we inadvertently cause by our own seemingly harmless actions. A Plague of Rats and Rubbervines takes a compelling look at this underappreciated problem and sets forth positive suggestions for what we as consumers, gardeners, travelers, nurserymen, fishermen, pet owners, business people -- indeed all of us who by our very local choices drive global commerce -- can do to help. "
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Yvonne Baskin is a Montana-based science writer and author of The Work of Nature (Island Press, 1997). Her articles have appeared in Natural History, Science, Discover, The Atlantic Monthly, and numerous other publications. For A Plague of Rats and Rubbervines, she was granted access to worldwide science and policy discussions of the Global Invasive Species Program through one of its sponsors, an international consortium of scientists known as the Scientific Committee on Problems of the Environment (SCOPE).From Booklist:
Increasingly visible to even casual observers, invading species such as the smothering kudzu in the South or the scabrous zebra mussel in the Great Lakes are not only annoying but also costly. Baskin quotes a study that estimates that controlling nonnative species costs the U.S. $137 billion per year, but other standards, of aesthetics and values, also animate her advocacy of controlling the global movement of plants, animals, and microbes. Control seems rather a faint prospect in the age of jet travel, international commerce, and rampant smuggling of exotic pets, but Baskin reports informatively on the state of the effort. She describes her visits to several environments where alien species have run amok, such as Hawaii, the Galapagos Islands, South Africa, and New Zealand, skillfully revealing her zoological and botanical knowledge. There has been a certain amount of success in containing invaders, which Baskin takes as an encouraging sign. Her survey--with historical perspective on biological interchange since the time of Columbus--of an extinction threat second only to habitat destruction will appeal to ecologically minded readers. Gilbert Taylor
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