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The Birds of Northern Melanesia: Speciation, Ecology, and Biogeography [Hardcover]

Ernst Mayr , Jared Diamond

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Book Description

Feb. 18 2003
Speciation is the process by which co-existing daughter species evolve from one ancestral species - e.g., humans, chimpanzees, and gorillas arising from a common ancestor around 5,000,000 years ago. However, many questions about speciation remain controversial. The Birds of Northern Melanesia provides by far the most comprehensive study yet available of a rich fauna, composed of the 195 breeding land and fresh-water bird species of the Bismarck and Solomon Archipelagoes east of New Guinea. This avifauna offers decisive advantages for understanding speciation, and includes famous examples of geographic variation discussed in textbooks of evolutionary biology. The book results from 30 years of collaboration between the evolutionary biologist Ernst Mayr and the ecologist Jared Diamond. It shows how Northern Melanesian bird distributions provide snapshots of all stages in speciation, from the earliest (widely distributed species without geographic variation) to the last (closelyrelated, reproductively isolated species occurring sympatrically and segregating ecologically). The presentation emphasizes the wide diversity of speciation outcomes, steering a middle course between one-model-fits-all simplification and ungeneralizable species accounts. Questions illuminated include why some species are much more prone to speciate than others, why some water barriers are much more effective at promoting speciation than others, and whether hypothesized taxon cycles, faunal dominance, and legacies of Pleistocene land bridges are real. These years of study have resulted in a huge database, complete with distributions of all 195 species on 76 islands, together with their taxonomy, colonization routes, ecological attributes, abundance, and overwater dispersal. Color plates depict 88 species and allospecies, many of which have never been seen before. For students of speciation, Northern Melanesian birds now constitute a model system against which other biotas can be compared. For population biologists interested in other problems besides speciation, this rich database can now be mined for insights.

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"Clearly, The Birds of Northern Melanesia represents a labor of love by the authors, who sink their teeth into a rich subject. In doing so, they follow the analytic approach that they have previously shown to be so productive." -- Bruce M. Beehler, Science

"[This book] is a marvelous guide to true watching, a watching that allows a bird to stand as each of us stands--both as a distinct individual, and with our edges blurred, in flowing lineage." --Wild Earth.

"The encyclopedic result covers 195 bird species on 76 islands of the Bismarck and Solomon archipelagos, which lie east of New Guinea and constitute Northern Melanesia. Mayr, the eminent evolutionary biologist who is professor emeritus of zoology at Harvard University has studied Melanesian birds since 1929. Diamond, professor of physiology at the medical school of the University of California at Los Angles has made 19 expeditions to the South Pacific to study birds in pursuit of his interest in ecology and biogeography." --Scientific American

"Mayr (zoology, Harvard U.) and Diamond (physiology, UCLA) have spent decades studying the birds of the Bismarck and Solomon Archipelagoes. While this volume can be used as a reference for the 195 species, it was written as a database for speciation. The text contains discussion of the physical and biological environment of the area, the history and impact of humans, the characteristics of the bird population, and their colonization routes. From this basis the remainder of the volume is devoted to a taxonomic and geographic analysis. Color plates are included of paintings of each bird by H. Douglas Pratt."--SciTech Book News

"Summarizing data from hundreds of biologists working in Northern Melanesia for more than a century, the authors completely revise the taxonomy of the region's birds, and include no fewer than 128 pages of tables, maps and appendices. Their book constitutes a compendium and analysis of data on the degree of taxonomic distinction of every species and every island population, their ecological and biogeographic attributes, and the sources of the colonists."--Nature

"In this landmark book, two of the world's most distinguished biologists shine a spotlight on one of the most fascinating aspects of evolution. ... no one is better qualified than the two authors to address this subject area. ... Their detailed data set makes this book of huge importance to ecologists, biogeographers and population biologists, as well as those studying speculation."--New Scientist

"This book may come to be regarded as the single most important publication on evolutionary biology since Darwin's (1859) momentous treatise On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection. Two of the most powerful intellects in zoology today, Mayr and Diamond, have collaborated to produce an exceptional book of far-reaching importance. This work greatly extends our understanding of the processes of avian biogeography and evolution. Here at last we have a holistic study of an entire avian community that provides a template for hall future studies. Furthermore, it underscores the value of faunistic studies, which unfortunately have become increasingly unfashionable. ... Both Mayr and Diamond have an unrivalled experience of Melanesian birds, both in the field and museum. Consequently, this is not just a theoretical book written from the safety of the laboratory or armchair. These guys really know their subject."--K.David Bishop, Standford University and Kincumber, NSW

"This definitive volume will inspire a new set of studies based on genetics and DNA, before too many of the unique island forms disappear. It will remain the ultimate work on island speculation." -- The Quarterly Review of Biology

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52 maps & 32 line illus

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