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Jacek M Szymura

Menno Schilthuizen

Frogs, flies, and dandelions

The origin of new species has always been something of a puzzle - Darwin answered some of the important questions, but left a lot of others unanswered. In Frogs, Flies and Dandelions: The Making of Species Menno Schilthuizen looks into some of the debates on this issue.

The book starts by looking at the question of how a species is defined - sometimes it isn't very clear cut. Schilthuizen goes on to look at the various theories of how a new species might arise from an existing one. Isolation of a population is one possibility, and if it is a small population then there is a greater likelihood of significant genetic variation. But since the ability to mate is central to the definition of a species, sexual selection can also play a part. Sometimes new species can appear fairly suddenly, and it can be hard to deduce what caused them to split off from the original species. The later part of the book looks at examples of this in more detail.

The book can be read by the non-specialist, although I didn't feel that it was quite as lively as the blurb suggested. It's certainly worth reading if you want a better understanding of some of the puzzling features of the occurence of new species.

Product Description
The earth is home to a wild proliferation of species, millions of life-forms that come in a spectacular--and often bizarre--array of sizes, shapes, and colors. But what triggers this fantastic explosion of life? How does one species split into another? Even Charles Darwin was baffled before such questions, calling them "The Mystery of Mysteries."
In this fascinating, witty, and vividly written book, Menno Schilthuizen illuminates these questions, showing how biologists and zoologists over the last two centuries have responded to them, assessing our current knowledge of species, and proposing his own solution to Darwin's mystery. Using the sometimes-vicious academic debates and the powerful personalities of scientists as background, Schilthuizen explores the meandering path of species research and sets it out in the clearest possible terms. From looking at how we define a species, to exploring how geographical isolation and sexual selection contribute to making new species, to showing how species may appear gradually or instantaneously, Frogs, Flies, and Dandelions offers a comprehensive account of this evolutionary drama. Along the way, we get to know a remarkable cast of characters from the plant and animal kingdoms, from the copper-loving monkey flower to sockeye salmon, fire-bellied toads, lyrebirds, apple maggot flies, and many others. Most important, we get a clear picture of all the conditions necessary for one species to give birth to another.
Written with engaging panache, and illuminating an area of study intensely relevant to any assessment of the earth's biodiversity, Frogs, Flies, and Dandelions will appeal to everyone--scientist and layperson alike--curious about nature and animal behavior.