Andrew Granville and Jennifer Granville on Prime Suspects

What inspired you to write this book?

Andrew: I had written quite a few “popular” articles, that had been well received inside the academic community. However I realized, at some point, that the furthest outside this community that read my articles seemed to be very keen high school teachers who organized statewide math competitions. I want to reach a much wider audience.

Jennifer: Andrew’s original idea was to write a screenplay that would be another way of communicating his mathematical ideas.  I brought expertise in screenwriting, Andrew brought the math.  The screenplay was given a rehearsed reading, with some contemporary, illustrative performance elements,at the Wolfson Auditorium at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. In the audience was Vickie Kearn from PUP. Vickie was the one who had the vision to suggest we could turn the work into a graphic novel – so I guess you could say it was Vickie who inspired us to actually ‘write the book’!

Why did you choose to specifically focus on integers and permutations in this graphic novel?

Andrew: I had thought it would make a good subject for a popular article. The extraordinary similarities between their “anatomies” is intriguing and I have been trying to popularize this within the research community. Since we started this project – which was over ten years ago – this area has really taken off.

How did you develop Prime Suspects‘ story, and from where did you draw inspiration?

Jennifer:  Andrew suggested that Integer and Permutation could be personified into murder victims who, forensic mathematical examination would prove via DNA, were twins. This was enough for me to begin to develop a narrative using all the genres I love to read and watch – noir movies, Chandler novels, the TV police procedural.

Prime Suspects is filled with “cameos” from famous mathematicians, as well as pop culture figures like Kevin Smith’s Silent Bob. There are also a lot of interesting ‘props’ and backgrounds peppering the pages. What inspired you to include these fun appearances?

Andrew: A story has more color if there is an interesting background and context. To my mind, a Hitchcock or a Tarantino movie is as intriguing for what, and who, is in the background as for what is in the foreground. I love those extra details. All of the appearances were inspired by the story.

What do you think an average comic book reader will enjoy about Prime Suspects, even if they don’t regularly read trade math books?

Andrew This is an attempt to be very very different. It is the proof of a theorem, developed as a detective story, in which the detective story in prominent, and the mathematics is by metaphor. Any reader can enjoy the art and the story, and try to be comfortable with as much of the mathematics as works for them.

Jennifer:  I am far from being any kind of mathematician, none of the the artists involved – the illustrator, colourist, letterer – are mathematicians, but we are all comic book fans and have all thoroughly enjoyed the process of bringing the story to life without understanding any of the deeper math. One of our characters compares the math to poetry – you don’t have to understand every word, every beat, in order to appreciate the beauty or to feel a concept. As described above, there are masses of cameos and loads of references to movies, books and contemporary culture, so I hope that readers will find plenty to enjoy.

There are so many interactive elements to Prime Suspects, including an original score. What inspired you to include so many creative elements with the text?

Jennifer:  These happened organically. To give one example, very early on in the project’s life, when we were just about to do the reading at Princeton, Andrew was seated at at a conference dinner next to a math hobbyist, Robert Schneider. Andrew told him about the screenplay and Robert was fascinated and excited and explaining that he was indie rock musician, asked if he could compose music to be played live at the reading. As it happened there is a major clue in the story, that involves a piece of music, so Robert ended up composing a real piece of music – that reflects the Sieve of Eratosthenes. There is now a QR code on the relevant page of the graphic novel, that allows the reader to play that piece of music. As a post script to that story, Robert is now a rock musician and a Math professor at UGA.

What did you find most exciting about taking your love for mathematics and putting it into a graphic novel? What did you find most challenging?

Andrew:  I had experience at writing “popular” articles, and my writing in that area has been well received. However, when trying to create a fictional story around my ideas, I found that my writing skills did not translate to this new setting. I had no idea how to develop a story and characters. Although a mathematics article should have a narrative, this is very different from writing dramatic narrative.  Working with Jennifer proved to be exciting, as together we were able to apply dramatic narrative techniques, and I could see ideas I had been thinking about for a long time take shape on the page. A major challenge has been to keep the integrity of the math whilst ensuring the story makes sense.  Where to explain the math and where to allow that the audience will all have different levels of understanding and accept that not everyone will understand everything.  Thus our narrator says, early on, that we are in a world in which you do not need to understand everything to understand something.

Jennifer:  This whole project has been a challenge because I never did have ‘a love for mathematics’ but that is what has made it exciting.  I failed math at school and it has always been a completely mysterious world to me. I could only observe my brother’s world, his passion, from the outside. The opportunity to share that world, to see it from the inside, has been a massive privilege and education. I am a prime example (pun intended) of someone who doesn’t understand everything, but who, now, does understand something.

 

Andrew Granville is the Canada Research Chair in Number Theory at the University of Montreal and professor of mathematics at University College London. Jennifer Granville is an educator, award-winning film and theater producer, writer, and director.

Dana Johnson on Will This Be on the Test?

Getting into college takes plenty of hard work, but knowing what your professors expect of you once you get there can be even more challenging. Will This Be on the Test? is the essential survival guide for high-school students making the transition to college academics. In this entertaining and informative book, Dana Johnson shares wisdom and wit gleaned from her decades of experience as an award-winning teacher in the freshman classroom—lessons that will continue to serve you long after college graduation.

What inspired you to write this book?

I’ve taught college freshmen for decades and have seen the trouble they have because they don’t realize how high school and college are different. Some don’t figure out how to be successful in their coursework and end up doing poorly or even dropping out. This book is my best advice to students based on my experiences and other professors I’ve known and worked with. I’ve wanted to write the book for many years, but finally made time to do it because I realized how much it could help.

How have students changed since you started teaching?

Students are less self-reliant and have more expectations of reminders, extensions, re-do’s on assignments, and extra credit. They want to be told information, rather than take charge of their own learning. They are more likely to blame someone or something else than take responsibility. With the advent of email, students prefer to send electronic messages rather than call or come to the offices of their professors, which means they have less of an academic relationship. Students seem less likely to meet many of their classmates as they are primarily connected via their phones and social media to friends they know through other contexts.

When should students (and parents) read this book?

Students should read it before going to college and again at the end of the first semester or two. The re-reading will help them pick up some tips that are more meaningful after they have experienced some college courses. Parents should read the book before their students are in high school so they understand what high school and the family should be preparing them for.

High school teachers and counselors could benefit from reading it too, so they’re aware of habits, skills, and a mindset that will help students make the transition successfully from high school to college.

What is the biggest mistake students make in college academics?

I’ll give you two:

  1. Skipping class. Since no one is calling their parents when they don’t go to class, it seems easy to sleep in or give preference to other activities.
  2. Procrastinating. There are fewer intermediate deadlines, reminders, reviews, prompts, and safety nets in college than in high school. At first, the assignment deadlines and exams seem so far away, and students wait too long before starting the work or studying.

An example of the comics found in Will This Be on the Test?. Art by Jeremy Tamburello.

Are the cartoons featured throughout the book based on real events?

The ideas all originated in something I experienced or was told to me. Every professor tells stories about bizarre, rude, amusing, or naïve behavior on the part of students, and students have told me their stories also. Some of them seem a little unbelievable – but they are all based on true stories!

What should students know about professors that they generally don’t?

Professors are experts in a special slice of their fields. They love their content, and they love their work. This is not just a job for them, it is their intellectual life. You can learn a lot by talking with them outside of class. Professors enjoy having their students visit office hours, and they want to pass on what they know. Students can think of this as a form of networking, which is a skill that will pay off after college too.

 

Dana Johnson taught for many years at the College of William and Mary, where she twice won the Simon Prize for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics, and has three decades of experience teaching college freshmen. She lives in Williamsburg, Virginia.

Tom Stephenson on the BirdGenie App

Where did the idea for BirdGenie’s technology come from?

TS: I was a musician and played concerts and worked in studios for many years. During this time I became interested in sound design and processing technologies. I continued this interest at Roland Corporation, where I finally got a “real” job, designing multi-channel recorders and mixing consoles. After retiring as director of technology of one of the divisions, I finally had more time for birding.

I had always been interested in vocalizations, often sketching out the shape of songs I was learning. Bird songs are often highly variable from individual to individual across one species. I wanted to find out what unifying elements allowed a member of a species, or us humans, to look beyond those variations and identify a bird as a member of one species.

As part of this study I wrote an article for ABA’s Birding magazine outlining how to identify the songs of different thrasher species, highly variable mimics, using the structure of their songs. Realizing how powerful this kind of analysis could be was a breakthrough for me. I began looking at spectrograms, which are graphics representations, of many different kinds of bird songs. I was trying to find the unifying structures underlying all of the songs of one species.

I was also comparing the general structure of all songs. Were there any universal constants that could help us notice the key unifying features that make one species’ songs unique? These studies, including basics like the elements, phrases and sections of songs, led to the breakthrough vocabulary and analysis of vocalizations in the book I wrote with Scott Whittle, The Warbler Guide.

My background work in signal processing and audio analysis as a musician and designer led me to think more broadly about how these song criteria could be formalized and stereotyped so they could even be used by a computer to help with song identification. After working on this for some time I filed for a patent on these methods and concepts for identifying animal vocalizations, which was finally granted a few years ago now. Sorry for the long-winded answer!

Did you do the programming yourself?

TS: No. That’s tough work! But I had been thinking about how to implement these ideas for some time. I went to an audio trade show and ran into a friend. He had just started working at a prominent software company that created products with highly sophisticated signal processing. I asked him if their processing technologies might work with my ideas. He thought they would and became very interested in the project.

I went up to their offices in, Cambridge, MA, and gave a presentation about the size of the birding marketplace and my strategies. They got excited about these ideas and assigned two engineers to work with me on the project. They first researched all of the academic papers on the topic, and then developed programs to implement those strategies.

The state of the art then, and even now, is black-box-machine-learning. Basically you feed a computer with lots of known examples which are analyzed using a variety of processing tools. The computer develops a map of features for each type. You then present the computer with a new example and it applies those mapped criteria and tries to make an identification. This system works well for music identification and even voice recognition, however birds are just a lot more variable.

We started with warbler songs because I had been working on them for some time and had a good library of examples. After some development time, the program started working very well about 70% of the time. But based on the mistaken identifications it made, I could see the “black box” wasn’t using much of my system. For example, a species, whose songs always have at least two sections, might be mistaken for a species that only sings one-section songs.  When I pointed this out to the programmers they said they could try and “train” the black box with more examples, but they didn’t have any way of seeing the computer’s rules or modifying them manually. That’s why they call it a “black box” system.

I realized that, even though this was state-of-the-art, it wasn’t going to work well with bird songs. I needed a system that allowed for direct injection of the ID criteria I had found to be fundamental to identifying highly variable bird songs. They agreed and the CEO put me in touch with Stephen Pope, who became our programmer for BirdGenie’s engine. He had an extensive background in music technologies, signal processing and computer programming. He immediately understood the need for a new way of designing the engine, using black-box strategies but supplementing them more types of machine learning and with a user-driven rule set and other strategies that could take advantage of my prior work.

A sample of the BirdGenie app.

So is that what makes BirdGenie different from other programs on the market?

TS: Yes, most definitely. BirdGenie’s patented strategies are unique and effective. We use a wide range of rule-based strategies that we can control, modify and improve, which is very different from the standard black-box methods.

When I started working with Stephen my first requirement was that the whole system be transparent. I wanted to be able to “see” what the computer was finding relevant and then modify or add other criteria. So the first program he created was a Tool that shows all of the ID criteria and how they are weighted. We then added more than thirty additional criteria that reflect the important structures and underlying features for all bird songs. And in addition to these general rules, we can add more criteria that are specific to each individual species. Some features, like density and ratio of harmonics, or relationship of silences between elements to element lengths; are not detectable by the human ear, but can be very effective ID criteria.

Stephen’s background at Stanford’s CCRMA, UC Berkley’s CNMAT and Xerox PARC programs made him uniquely qualified to work on the project. Bird song is actually much more difficult than music or even human voice. It’s highly variable and that’s why our methods work so well, using the underlying structures and the similarities that allow even us humans to identify a singing bird.

How do you think users will benefit from BirdGenie?

TS: BirdGenie can help users identify almost all of the birds they find in their backyard or local park. People who feed birds, take hikes, or just enjoy walking in their local natural areas, are often surrounded by singing birds that can be hard-to-see. BirdGenie can help them find the identify of these hidden songsters and learn more about the natural bird life around them.

Here’s an example. I was visiting a family that had a small suburban backyard and a couple of bird feeders. They recognized the Blue Jays, Northern Cardinals and Downy Woodpeckers that visited regularly.

But during a June visit I stepped outside and in about fifteen minutes heard over twenty species of birds singing in their yard. We looked them all up and they realized they had seen most of them, at least briefly. The loud singing of one species, the House Wren, had baffled them for years. Once they realized what a great species that is, they went out and bought a small bird house which it now nests in every year.

We’re hoping that being able to identify and learn more about all of their great local birds, will allow people to enjoy nature even more than they do now, and maybe even get more involved in conservation.

A screenshot of BirdGenie as it records the bird sounds around its user.

Is BirdGenie kid-friendly?

TS: The better question might be “Is it adult friendly?!!” Kids are such great adopters of technology that often they’re more fluent with an iPhone or Android than adults. That being said, we spent a lot of time and resources making BirdGenie very easy to use. The screens and user interface are very simple.  

That might sound like an obvious thing, but actually it takes a lot of work. Simple is not nearly as easy as confusing! We worked with two different design firms, and have done hours of field testing to make sure everything in the program is simple and intuitive, even for adults!

Beyond helping users learn more about their local birds, does BirdGenie have any other benefits?

TS: Yes, we hope so. Users can choose to share their recordings and IDs with us. This is all anonymous, of course. But these data could be very valuable for research.

For example, right now there is no easy way for a scientist to study how Song Sparrow songs vary across the U.S. and Canada. Of course they could get grant money and spend a year or more traveling from state to state. But with BirdGenie’s shared song data, we could generate a large sample set of Song Sparrow songs all across the U.S.

Once we have it, we will make this information available to researchers, who could then use it to target studies in local song dialects and possibly learn more about how songs are learned, the status and distribution of species during different seasons, and more.

Last question: What is the Match Assist feature in BirdGenie?

TS:  Match Assist is a feature unique to BirdGenie. Birds often sing in noisy environments or are difficult to get close enough to so for a good recording. Of course BirdGenie uses powerful noise reduction tools. Even if there are people talking or lawn mowers are going, BirdGenie can usually isolate the bird song and make the identification.

But in cases of really distant birds, or multiple birds singing at once, we have provided an additional tool to help with the identification process. That’s Match Assist. Using this unique feature, users can choose to answer 3 or 4 simple questions about different aspects of a song they recorded. The engine can then use the answers to further isolate a song and make an ID.

For example, one question is whether the bird is singing one sound over and over again, like an American Crow or a Blue Jay, or many different sounds, like a House Wren. This not only can assist in the ID process but also is a way users can learn more about the structure and characteristics of the songs around them.

In many ways, BirdGenie is really an educational tool. It helps users learn more about what birds are singing and living around them, and also helps users become more aware of bird song in general and what makes songs so unique and beautiful.

Luke Hunter on Carnivores of the World

Covering all 250 species of terrestrial, true carnivores, from the majestic polar bear and predatory wild cats to the tiny least weasel, Luke Hunter’s comprehensive, up-to-date, and user-friendly guide, Carnivores of the World, features 93 color plates by acclaimed wildlife artist Priscilla Barrett that depict every species and numerous subspecies, as well as more than 400 drawings of skulls and footprints. Features new to this edition include revised and expanded species coverage, a distribution map for every species, 25 new behavioral illustrations, and much more. Detailed species accounts describe key identification features, distribution and habitat, feeding ecology, behavior, social patterns, reproduction and demography, status, threats, lifespan, and mortality. An introduction includes a concise overview of taxonomy, conservation, and the distinct families of Carnivora.

What’s new in the second edition?

The text has been completely revised for the second edition, with new data and observations published since 2011 to update and improve the original text throughout. By way of one example, most reproductive data for the Andean Bear in the first edition had been collected from captive animals, but the first population-level information from long-term research on the species in the wild (in Peru) was published in 2018, and has been incorporated in the book. Similarly, some species which were very poorly known at the time I wrote the first edition have since been the focus of at least one dedicated research effort, providing much better information for the new book; examples include the Bush Dog, Fishing Cat and Narrow-striped Boky.

A major addition in the new edition is the inclusion of 9 new species delineated since 2011, largely as a result of recent genetic analyses. Perhaps the most dramatic example is the African Wolf, formerly believed to be an African population of the Eurasian Golden Jackal.  The new book covers numerous cases where one species has been re-classified into two or even three, e.g. European, Asian and Japanese badgers, Northern and Southern Oncillas, and Mainland and Sunda Leopard Cats.

Finally, the IUCN Red List category indicating degree of endangerment has been revised for most carnivores, I provide a new assessment of Population Trend for each species, and the second edition includes distribution maps for every species based on the most recent IUCN Red List population data.

It is surprising that so many new species have been described since the first edition was published. How did these discoveries arise?

All new species in the book arose largely as a result of advances in genetic technology which has made very powerful and cost-effective analyses widely accessible to researchers. It has allowed geneticists to look with ever-increasing resolution at the differences between populations which, in some cases, turned out to be a so-called “cryptic species.” The same process has also revealed cases where populations formerly considered to be separate species (based mainly on appearance) actually have minor genetic differences, subsuming two former species into one. For example, Grandidier’s Vontsira is now regarded as a distinct population of the Broad-striped Vontsira. Whereas the first edition included accounts of 245 species, edition 2 covers 250 species, nine of them newly described.

To many readers, uncovering new species by genetic differences probably does not have the same excitement as news of an entirely unknown animal never before seen by scientists being discovered in a remote corner of the globe. Do you think the new species in the book are as interesting or even valid?

The question of validity is an interesting one; even geneticists debate the degree of genetic divergence indicative of two distinct species (versus lower-level delineations, for example, indicative of sub-species). There is the genuine danger of a ‘gold-rush’ in which researchers rush to publish new discoveries based on relatively minor distinctions between populations: there are already examples in the scientific literature. I took a conservative approach in the book, and included only those new species supported by strong published evidence and that are generally accepted by relevant authorities e.g. the International Union for Conservation of Nature Species Survival Commission (IUCN SSC) Specialist Groups devoted to carnivores.

Even with that, the question of validity remains a moving target. I believe that any newly discovered genetic distinctions must reflect other significant biological differences, such as in morphology, ecology, distribution and especially in reproductive isolation, the classic (some say old-fashioned!) defining characteristic of species. This is not always well understood, even for some of the new species included in this new edition. In an introductory section on the 13 families of terrestrial carnivores, I list other cases that I consider borderline or questionable; these are not treated as full species in the book but some may eventually be recognized as such with better data and analyses in future. This is a story that will continue to unfold.

Priscilla Barrett’s artwork is superb, with many species which have never been so accurately and beautifully painted. What was it like working with her?

Priscilla is an exceptional collaborator. With her zoology background, she brings a scientist’s rigor to the process. She draws on her vast collection of reference material- photos of museum skins and samples, sketches and notes from the field- and we also used hundreds of recent camera-trap images, supplied by colleagues from around the world, including of many species or forms that have otherwise never been photographed in the wild. The result is art that is not only beautiful but also highly accurate; viewing Priscilla’s carnivores, I always feel a surge of recognition, that she has captured the true essence of each species.

Beyond each individual piece of art, each plate benefits from Priscilla’s very intuitive sense of design. The process started with her sketching rough lay-outs to decide the poses for each species or form, and how each interacted with the others on the page. Once we had decided that a plate worked, she painted all of the components. It has been very rewarding for me to come to understand how that process produces complete plates with both balance and life.

Field guides to mammals are becoming more common. Do you think this reflects greater interest in watching mammals?

Two colleagues who recently published a review of mammal-watching put it nicely when they said ‘Mammalwatching today is arguably where bird-watching was a century ago.’ That said, the same paper notes how mammal-focused tourism has increased dramatically in the last couple of decades, not only for the large charismatic species that every safari-goer to Africa wants to see, but increasingly for small and often difficult-to-see species requiring specialist guides and local knowledge.

Amateur mammal-watchers have also contributed to scientific discoveries including the first documented record, with terrific photos, of the virtually unknown Pousargues’ mongoose in Uganda since the 1970s, and the first records of Pale Fox and Rüppell’s Fox from northeastern Ethiopia; I referred to both papers for the second edition. I also had access to many dozens of trip reports written by mammal-watchers since the first edition. There’s little doubt all this reflects an increase in mammal-focused tourism, a trend that I am sure will continue. And one, I hope, that helps foster the growing demand for more and better mammal-focused field guides!

 

Luke Hunter is one of the world’s leading authorities on wild carnivores. His books include Wild Cats of the World and Cheetah. He lives in New York City.

David Hu on How to Walk on Water and Climb Up Walls (Part 2)

Insects walk on water, snakes slither, and fish swim. Animals move with astounding grace, speed, and versatility: how do they do it, and what can we learn from them? In How to Walk on Water and Climb up Walls, David Hu takes readers on an accessible, wondrous journey into the world of animal motion. From basement labs at MIT to the rain forests of Panama, Hu shows how animals have adapted and evolved to traverse their environments, taking advantage of physical laws with results that are startling and ingenious. In turn, the latest discoveries about animal mechanics are inspiring scientists to invent robots and devices that move with similar elegance and efficiency.

In the second part of our Q+A with David Hu, he describes what we know (and don’t know) about animal motion, and what the future of robots will look like. Check out the first part of our Q+A here.

Don’t we already know everything about animal motion?

From cave paintings to today’s videos of cats on YouTube, the movement of animals has always fascinated people. The thesis of my book is that there is an explosion of new interest and progress in understanding animal motion. Recent technological developments and the teamwork of biologists, computer scientists, physicists, and engineers, are leading to changes in the way animal motion is now studied.

What can we learn from studying animal motion?

Animals have existed for millions of years. As a result, they have evolved a huge diversity, inhabiting nearly every part of the planet, across terrains from desert to forest to sea. This range of environments, combined with their intense competition to eat or be eaten has led to the evolution of ingenious methods of locomotion. Their varying locomotion mechanisms can inspire new ways of propulsion for humans, from robots that walk across the clutter in our homes to tracked vehicles that move across the dusty surface of Mars. But before we robots are improved sufficiently to enter our everyday lives, an understanding how animals movement is of great benefit.

What kind of approach is needed to study animal motion?

We already have many of the tools to understand the movement of animals.  Because animals move through air and water, the same tools that engineers use to design boats and airplanes can be applied to animals. The brains of animals can be studied in a similar way. To react quickly to their surroundings, animals rely on a system of nerves that can act autonomously, similar to the cruise control in your car, and the motion of an autonomous robot. Since animals share things in common with boats, airplanes, and robots—the same tools to study these human-made systems can be used to reverse-engineer systems in nature.

How did you become interested in studying animals and insects?

My PhD was on the physics of insects that walk on water. People who study the motion of fluids have often looked to birds and fish for inspiration. During my PhD, I realized that while we often see insects as annoying, they are the dominant non-microscopic life form on earth, and their small size gives them an even greater versatility to move. After my PhD study on water striders and a postdoctoral study on snakes, I founded my own laboratory for studying animal movement.

What are the applications of your work, whether it’s a shaking wet dog or animals waving their tails?

In the course of my work, I often design and build new devices based on animal movement. My work on water striders led to a collaborator building a palm-sized water-walking robot. My work on cat tongues led to a cat-tongue inspired brush that combs with lower force and is easier to clean. From this book, I hope to show curiosity-based research on animal motion can lead to useful new inventions.

What are the robots of the future going to be like?

Many robots rely on wheels and are tested on linoleum floors. Robots built for such structured environments often do poorly in nature. A grassy field, a moss-covered stream, even a living room littered with children’s toys. These are terrain that is impassible by most robots. To traverse these cluttered areas, robots will likely need multiple legs, or no legs at all, resembling insects or snakes. I bet that robots that successfully traverse outdoor environments will show some resemblance to the animals that make this place their home. This is because the laws of physics provide immutable constraints that have influenced the shape and kind of motion that is most effective on these terrain.

David L. Hu is associate professor of mechanical engineering and biology and adjunct professor of physics at Georgia Institute of Technology. He lives in Atlanta.

Stephen Blackmore on How Plants Work

All the plants around us today are descended from simple algae that emerged more than 500 million years ago. While new plant species are still being discovered, it is thought that there are around 400,000 species in existence. From towering redwood trees and diminutive mosses to plants that have stinging hairs and poisons, the diverse range of plant life is extraordinary. Stephen Blackmore’s How Plants Work is a fascinating inquiry into, and celebration of, the complex plant kingdom.

Why is the book called How Plants Work?

Too many people overlook the fact that plants are at work all around us. The title helps convey the idea of plants as active players, not just a green background. Our species and other animals could never have evolved if photosynthesis, first in blue green algae,  later in plants, had not made the atmosphere and oceans rich in oxygen. Plants are now known to make up 80% of the living biomass of our planet, and having created the conditions for animal life they are essential for our continued survival as the base of our food chain and as providers of essential ecosystem services.

What attracted you to becoming a botanist?

As a child, I was fascinated by nature and curious about all living things. As such, I wanted to know their names and understand how they lived. At first I was most interested in animals, especially, butterflies, birds and reptiles. As I began to learn more about them I understood that each lived in a specific kind of vegetation, fed on different fruits or seeds, or laid eggs on a particular species of food plant. It dawned on me that plants were at the heart of nature and I wanted to know more about them. I have been fortunate to travel widely as a botanist, collecting plants in several continents.

My own journey led me from studying pollen grains and spores to plant conservation. Pollen fascinated me because each cell-sized grain is an entire male gametophyte plant. I wanted to understand how their enormous diversity of form, surprising since they all perform the same task of delivering the male gametes, originated during their development in the anther. I came to plant conservation through seeing some of the finest forests and grasslands disappearing before our eyes. Botanists are now in a desperate race to save plant diversity to keep the biosphere working.

But, aren’t plants all more or less the same?

Plants are deceptively simple in that they are constructed from so few, very familiar, organs: roots, stems, leaves, and flowers or cones. But within each of these organs there is great diversity of form, a consequence of plants solving such problems as how to live in widely differing environments, from a desert to rain forest. Because they are literally rooted to the spot plants have found ingenious ways to colonize new places, dispersing seeds, pollen, and spores on the wind or harnessing animals to carry them from place to place. A major theme of the book is to explore the diversity of each major organ of the plant and to understand their life cycles and reproduction as products of this diversity.

How were the authors selected?

In bringing together a team to write the book it was important to select world leading botanists, people with the experience as research leaders, and teachers to be able to share their specialist understanding of the workings of different parts of the plant. Just as medical practitioners specialize in different parts of the human body, so botanists focus on investigating specific organs or processes in plants. By engaging such talented botanists, the most authentic information emerges, in a new telling, hopefully resulting in a freshness rarely found in standard textbooks.

What do you hope the book will achieve?

The authors, in sharing their passion for plants, hope to attract people to look more closely at plants and to understand more deeply how diverse they are and how important for our future. Plants, as the source of our food, the foundation of the natural and agricultural landscapes we cherish, are a vital for the future of our species. It matters profoundly to the quality of life in the future that as many people as possible understand the value and importance of plants, as much as their great beauty and endless fascination.

 

Stephen Blackmore is a botanist and conservationist. His books include Green Universe and Plant Conservation Science and Practice. He was the 15th Regius Keeper of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh and was appointed Her Majesty’s Botanist in Scotland in 2010. He is chairman of Botanic Gardens Conservation International and the Darwin Expert Committee.

David Bainbridge on Stripped Bare

For more than two thousand years, comparative anatomy—the study of anatomical variation among different animal species—has been used to make arguments in natural philosophy, reinforce religious dogma, and remind us of our own mortality. This stunningly illustrated compendium traces the intertwined intellectual and artistic histories of comparative anatomy from antiquity to today.

Stripped Bare brings together some of the most arresting images ever produced, from the earliest studies of animal form to the technicolor art of computer-generated anatomies. David Bainbridge draws on representative illustrations from different eras to discuss the philosophical, scientific, and artistic milieus from which they emerged. He vividly describes the unique aesthetics of each phase of anatomical endeavor, providing new insights into the exquisite anatomical drawings of Leonardo and Albrecht Dürer in the era before printing, Jean Héroard’s cutting and cataloging of the horse during the age of Louis XIII, the exotic pictorial menageries of the Comte de Buffon in the eighteenth century, anatomical illustrations from Charles Darwin’s voyages, the lavish symmetries of Ernst Haeckel’s prints, and much, much more.

Why The Art of Animal Anatomy?

Although my day job is teaching anatomy to veterinary students, it has taken me until my seventh book to write about it. All my other books have been about how very strange and unusual human biology is when compared to animals, but this time I thought I’d try something different. Animal structure has been a central artistic element since early humans were painting on cave walls, and I wanted to write a book that reflects how much it has permeated our artistic culture. To do this, the format had to be right – everything else I’ve written has been very text-heavy, but Stripped Bare had to let the images speak for themselves. I did have to weave it into a narrative, but just as important is the quality of the reproductions. Enormous effort and skill went into them, so we wanted to do them justice.

Has the artistic side of science always interested you?

I’ve always found that some of the most interesting aspects of science are when it interacts with language, culture and the arts. Right back when I was slogging through my science subjects to get into vet school, I was also lucky enough to be able to take a two-year course in Art History. I suppose that’s where I learnt the language – knowing my Cubists from my Fauvists, and so on – but also understood for the first time the very real ways that changes in the visual arts reflect, and are reflected by, changes in thought and society. It didn’t take long for me to realise that animal anatomy is not only depicted for its own practical sake, but has also become an eerie, visceral motif to which artists have returned again and again. It has the power to both shock and inspire, and often that’s just too good for artists to ignore.

So how important is it to be familiar with anatomy and art history to enjoy the book?

Not at all, I would say. I assumed nothing of the reader, other than an intelligent inquisitiveness. Comparative anatomy is so much more interesting than seeing the striking ways in which a human, a flamingo and a trout differ, and are similar. It’s a story which almost writes itself. In the book, I tried to highlight what I think are fascinating snippets of the science, but anatomy is a huge topic, and I couldn’t assume any prior knowledge of it. I guess I assumed slightly more foreknowledge of art history, but still not much. A general sense of the flow of the centuries and movements is beneficial, but that’s all. And if readers are teased into finding out more about Futurism or Hyperrealism, then that’s great.

Who is the most important character in the book?

It would have to be Carlo Ruini, an anatomist from Bologna who wrote the remarkable 1598 Anatomia del Cavallo (Anatomy of the Horse), what I like to think of as the Principia Mathematica of comparative anatomy. Before the Anatomia anatomical writings just looked ancient – rare, error-strewn, unscientific, fragmentary, and worst of all, often unillustrated. In contrast, for all its four centuries of existence, Ruini’s book looks recognisably modern: structured, enquiring and detailed. For example, Ruini discovered the one-way nature of the valves of the heart, an important component of later discoveries of the circulation of the blood. The anatomical precision in the book is amazing, especially as it seems to have sprung into existence as if from from nowhere, but most striking is its artistic beauty. There are hundreds of meticulous wood-block engravings, capturing not just the science of the animals’ structure, but also the emotional visual impact of gnarled bones, contorted intestines and convoluted brains. Most of all, the animals retain a remarkable dignity, despite their progressive ‘disrobing’ – they stand proud, or even sometimes trot gaily through renaissance landscapes.

And which artist brings you the most pleasure?

It would have to be Georgia O’Keeffe. In many ways she’s at the other end of the spectrum. Ruini’s book was a practical, scientific book, whereas O’Keeffe uses animal bones solely as elements, often central elements, in her compositions. Just like her paintings of libidinous flowers, her depictions of animal bones allowed her to explain her own feelings about her adopted environment in the American Southwest. Bleached skulls become the central band in the American red, white and blue, while a crumbling pelvis on the desert floor becomes a grand, eroded rock arch framing the distant sierra. I believe that the use of the dusty white skull as a symbol of the desert states (think of an Eagles album cover!) can be traced directly back to O’Keeffe’s decision to place them centre-stage in her compositions.

Has the art of animal anatomy run its course, do you think?

Not at all. If anything, there’s more happening now than ever before. Over recent decades it has become clear that biology is bewilderingly complex and detailed, and one of the major challenges we face is explaining and depicting the new superabundance of information in a comprehensible way. As soon as a neuroscientist generates a scan of the internal nervous pathways of the brain, they have to make artistic – yes, artistic – decisions, if they are to intelligibly represent the tangled and cascading neural superhighways they’ve discovered. Modern, computer-generated diagrams of animal structure and biology are usually beautiful, and always striking. Animal anatomy has even made its way into modern street art. One of the most inspiring images in the book is of a dog’s skull, spay-painted freehand apparently, by the artist SHOK1, onto a building-site hoarding in Walthamstow, North London. It’s one of the most anatomically accurate depictions in the book, a true memento mori for the modern age. The pace of anatomical art is hastening, not slowing – I’m sure there is much more to come.

 

David Bainbridge is University Clinical Veterinary Anatomist at the University of Cambridge. His books include Curvology: The Origins and Power of Female Body Shape and Beyond the Zonules of Zinn: A Fantastic Journey through Your Brain.

José R. Castelló on Canids of the World

This stunningly illustrated and easy-to-use field guide covers every species of the world’s canids, from the Gray Wolf of North America to the dholes of Asia, from African jackals to the South American Bush Dog. It features more than 150 superb color plates depicting every kind of canid and detailed facing-page species accounts that describe key identification features, morphology, distribution, subspeciation, habitat, and conservation status in the wild. The book also includes distribution maps and tips on where to observe each species, making José R. Castelló’s Canids of the World the most comprehensive and user-friendly guide to these intriguing and spectacular mammal.

What are Canids?

Canids are the family of carnivores that includes wolves, coyotes, jackals, foxes, dogs, dingoes, dholes, and other dog-like mammals, with at least 37 extant species, ranging in weight from less than one kilogram to well up to eighty kilograms. Most people would readily recognize the more well-known members of the family Canidae. However, some of its members, as the short-eared dog or the bush-dog, are very elusive and are poorly known, even to enthusiasts. Other species, as the African golden wolf, have just been recently rediscovered. Canids are present in each continent except Antarctica and inhabit every major ecosystem, from arctic regions to deserts and tropical forests. Many canids have distributions that span over a whole continent, and red foxes and grey wolves have the most extensive natural range of any land mammal, with the exception of humans and perhaps some commensal rodents.

What makes Canids so attractive?

Canids are charismatic animals and possess an interest to many readers who are not necessarily biologists or students. The long association of man and dog have guaranteed a greater than usual interest in the knowledge of canids. They are a group with which humans have had the most longstanding and profound associations. They are also one of three modern families of carnivorans notable for including top predators, species capable of hunting down prey several times their own size (the other two are the cat family and the hyena family). Canids are also highly intelligent and develop complex social systems, and adapt rapidly to changing circumstances, as well as different habitats. A canid – the wolf – was the first animal to be domesticated. Domestic dogs have accompanied us for some 15,000 years and have been useful to humans in many ways, such as guarding of livestock, protection, or as pets. Wolves may be the most familiar of large mammalian carnivores and have always held a fascination to humankind; people either love them or hate them, and folklore has portrayed them as vicious and devious killers, but also as symbols of wilderness. Many species of canids are also viewed as pests to humans, and populations of many species have been decimated. Wolves, coyotes, and foxes are persecuted by ranchers, who blame them for losses to livestock. Foxes have been targeted as carriers of rabies and likewise have been the target of hunting, and some foxes are valued for their pelts, which have been used in the fashion industry.

Why is conservation of Canids so important?

Members of this group are widely hunted, persecuted, and used by humans. At least 25% of Canid species are threatened and need urgent protection. Others are rare and even declining or involved in major wildlife management issues, such as disease transmission, predation on livestock, sports hunting, or fur trade. Grey wolves, for instance, have been extirpated from many areas and several of their subspecies have vanished. The Red wolf was declared extinct in the wild by 1980. African Wild Dogs are extinct in most countries that they formerly inhabited, with fewer than 5,000 free-ranging remaining, while Dholes, formerly living throughout Asia, are extinct in half of the countries that they inhabited. Ethiopian wolves, the most threatened canid in the world, number fewer than 500 in the wild. And one species has gone extinct in recent times: the Falkland Island wolf was declared extinct in 1876.

Why did you write this book?

The main reason for writing “Canids of the World” is to showcase people the great, and sometimes unknown, biodiversity of this family of mammals, and also to enable the observer to identify most species of wild Canids from all over the world. Most canids are easy to recognize, but morphological variation within the family is relatively slight, which creates problems of species recognition and classification. Most canids have a similar basic form, as exemplified by the wolf, although the relative length of muzzle, limbs, ears and tail vary considerably between species. Canids also demonstrate a high clinal variability which also may create problems of recognition.

The second reason is to try to clarify the taxonomy of this group. Taxonomy of canids is somewhat controversial and this ever-changing classification can seem confusing to the enthusiast. The family Canidaecurrently includes 37 species and a larger number of subspecies whose status is under constant revision. There are still uncertainties regarding the taxonomic status of some species (eastern wolf, red wolf), while the use of some generic names (Lupulella for some African jackals) is also disputed. Recent phylogenetic studies have found that red foxes in North America are genetically distinct from Eurasian red foxes and merit recognition as a distinct species. In India, two small endangered populations of wolves, the Himalayan and Indian wolves, have also been shown to be genetically distant from other wolves, and some have proposed to treat them as separate species, while dingoes and New Guinea singing dogs are now considered by most authors as feral derivatives of ancient breeds of domestic dogs. It should be pointed that difficulties regarding this taxonomic delimitation among canids can lead to underestimating species and subspecies richness, and these problems can compromise biodiversity conservation.

Last but not least, this book is written to raise awareness for species of canids that has become endangered and to protect wildlife. This book includes information on reproduction, behavior, diet, and conservation of these species. “Canids of the World” is a book for everyone interested in canids, from the expert requiring a reference work, to the layperson fascinated by their beauty, biology and diversity. You certainly can’t protect what you don’t know!

 

José R. Castelló is a medical doctor, naturalist, and wildlife photographer. He is a member of the American Society of Mammalogists and the Spanish Society for Conservation and Study of Mammals. He is the author of Bovids of the World: Antelopes, Gazelles, Cattle, Goats, Sheep, and Relatives (Princeton).

Dave Smallshire and Andy Swash on Britain’s Dragonflies

Britain’s Dragonflies is the only comprehensive photographic field guide to the damselflies and dragonflies of Great Britain and Ireland. Written by two of Britain’s foremost Dragonfly experts, this fully revised and updated fourth edition features hundreds of stunning images and identification charts covering all 57 resident, migrant and former breeding species, and six potential vagrants. The book focuses on the identification of both adults and larvae, highlighting the key features. Detailed species profiles provide concise information on identification, distribution, flight periods, behavior, habitat, status and conservation.

What does the book cover?

This is a practical field guide covering every species of dragonfly and damselfly recorded in Britain and Ireland up to the end of 2017. It also includes a few species that might occur in the future. Dragonfly biology and preferred habitats are covered in the introductory sections. Detailed accounts describe and illustrate each species, and give details of status and distribution, along with helpful identification tips. Although the book focuses on the identification of adults, there is also a unique guide to the identification in the field of larvae and exuviae (larval ‘skins’ left behind when adults emerge from water). The concluding chapters give tips on photography, conservation and recording.

Who is the book aimed at?

The target readership includes both beginners and experts alike. The book is written in an accessible style and has a user-friendly design, making it easy to understand for beginners, but with the level of detail needed occasionally by experts. Scientific jargon is avoided as much as possible and the book follows a sequence that leads the reader to likely species in a logical order. An e-version gives enthusiasts the chance to carry this wealth of information, as well as other WILDGuidesbooks, in their pocket during excursions into the field.

How is the book illustrated?

Britain’s Dragonflies is lavishly illustrated with over 500 superb color photographs. Photographic guides are often preferred over those with painted illustrations because of their better reflection of reality. We have carefully selected photographs that were taken specifically for this book by ourselves, as well as many by some of the world’s foremost dragonfly photographers. We have used these in combination with graphics specially produced by WILDGuides’ Chief Designer, Rob Still, to summarize the finer identification details.

This is the fourth edition, so what has changed since the first?

As with many other insect groups, Dragonflies are taking advantage of warmer conditions around the globe. Populations have spread generally northwards in Europe, including in Britain and Ireland, and we have seen rapid extensions in the ranges of many species in recent years. Indeed, we have experienced colonizations by species previously unknown in these isles, as populations have built up in continental Europe. For example, the Small Red-eyed Damselfly has spread rapidly across southern Britain following its discovery in 1999. At the same time, powerful fliers such as Emperor Dragonfly and Migrant Hawker have spread north and west within Britain and Ireland. The quality of images available has improved tremendously since the advent of digital photography, allowing us to incorporate even better examples. Our close links with the British Dragonfly Society have enabled us to build on the experience of others to produce what we, and many of the reviewers of previous editions, consider to be the ultimate field guide.

Why did you write this book?

As keen all-round naturalists we built up many years’ experience in running field courses for both professional and amateur naturalists, and felt it was time to put this wealth of experience on paper. Our key driver, as keen conservationists, was in encouraging others to take an interest in this amazing and enigmatic group of insects. The WILDGuides Britain’s Wildlife series has set new standards in the development of photographic field guides,  and provided us with an ideal platform to give Dragonflies the coverage they warrant.

Mohamed Noor on Live Long and Evolve

Live Long and Evolve CoverIn Star Trek, crew members travel to unusual planets, meet diverse beings, and encounter unique civilizations. Throughout these remarkable space adventures, does Star Trek reflect biology and evolution as we know it? What can the science in the science fiction of Star Trek teach us? In Live Long and Evolve, biologist and die-hard Trekkie Mohamed Noor takes readers on a fun, fact-filled scientific journey.

You teach courses introducing genetics and evolution, yet rather than writing a book that simply presented the science from your courses, you wrote this book that uses examples from a fictional TV show. Why?

My aim is to try to reach people who may be less inclined to read something that seems like a textbook, but who may consider a different “entry-point” to learning about science and evolution in particular. Science fiction is popular and often quite approachable, so leveraging interest in science fiction may be a means for getting people excited about learning the scientific truths (or fallacies) underlying in what’s presented. Reading or watching science fiction is often what inspired people to become scientists, so why not use its popularity to have people learn more science?

But why Star Trek? Isn’t that about space travel in the far future? Do they really cover much genetics and evolution?

Part of the stated mission of the spaceship in many Star Trek series is “to seek out new life”. You may be surprised at how much genetics and evolution crop up across the series given this emphasis: for example, roughly one quarter of the episodes of the 2001-2005 series Star Trek Enterprise had the word “DNA” in the script, and an episode of the current series Star Trek: Discovery references results from a 2015 genome sequencing study. Importantly,Star Trek tries to explain observations in the context of science rather than falling back on magic or “the Force.” More generally, Star Trek offers a very large and mostly internally consistent volume from which to draw examples. Over 700 non-animated Star Trek episodes and 13 movies have aired so far (with one series continuing). That’s a lot of material, making it possible to find examples of almost anything you could want to explain! Of course, while what I’ve told you above is all true, a big added reason for me is that I just love Star Trek, and I think a lot of other people do, too.

How do you approach the science in your book?

The book follows the structure and topics of an introductory biology course at Duke University, where I teach. Each chapter is devoted to a broader idea, like “common ancestry of species” or “microevolutionary processes”. Within each chapter, I start sections by describing a scene from a Trek episode or movie that is relevant. The scene is described in enough detail that someone who hasn’t seen the episode gets the gist of what happened. I then talk about the underlying science that was described using real examples and analogies, and I try to mention recent research in these areas when appropriate. Finally, I return to the focal scene as well as other depictions in Star Trek and assess the accuracy of what was shown and/ or speculate on what may not have been shown (or suggest a tweak to what was shown) that would make it more precise. I follow this approach for several specific topics within each broader chapter idea to help the reader learn the underlying biology.

But how good is the science in Star Trek? Presumably it often gets things quite wrong in terms of biology, like showing hybrids between alien species. Don’t these errors make it hard to teach people your science if you’re using flawed material as your source of examples?

Trek definitely takes some liberties with the biology. There are also times when it gets things quite wrong. However, these errors often reflect broader misunderstandings the public (and sometimes scientists as well) have about genetics and evolution, and thus they provide teachable moments. For example, there’s an episode in which the cast are infected with a virus that caused them to “de-evolve” into various other life-forms (e.g., a spider), due to activating the introns within genes. This example is ludicrous, but it then opens the door to discussing misconceptions about evolution and ancestry and why they are wrong. For instance, humans share a common ancestor with spiders, but none of our direct ancestors were spiders. This is analogous to how we share a common ancestor with our second-cousins, but none of our second-cousins was a direct ancestor of ours. I discuss the evidence for evolution and common ancestry in some detail to try to combat these misconceptions. Later in the book, I also discuss what introns are and why they do not retain instructions for earlier evolutionary states.

How has your background in genetics and evolution informed this book?

While my intent is to cover some basics principles of evolution, one cannot understand evolution without a grasp of genetics, so I present a lot of genetics in the book as well. Genetics and genetics-related terms also seem to crop up in the public eye frequently: DNA sequencing, cloning, personal genotypes, epigenetics, CRISPR, etc. Even beyond explaining evolution, I am eager to have readers learn some basic genetics so they understand what is and what is not possible in real life.

If you wanted people to learn just one thing about evolution, what would it be, and is that one thing covered in your book?

The most basic evolutionary concept is the truth of all species on Earth sharing a common ancestor. We are related to other animals, to plants, and even to bacteria, and the evidence for these relationships is overwhelming. I cover this at some length in the book. However, another idea which I personally have found fascinating since college is how evolution by natural selection is a “mathematical inevitability” if a species has three simple features: heredity (offspring typically resemble parents more than random other individuals), variation (offspring vary in their traits), and differences in survival or reproduction associated with the varying traits. This concept, too, is covered in the book using examples from reproducing “nanites” in an episode of Star Trek.

I apologize— that’s TWO things about evolution rather than one, but there’s so much fascinating science in this field that it is hard to pick a single example. To quote the last line of Darwin’s most famous book, “There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; … from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.”

 

Mohamed Noor is a professor and former department chair of the Biology Department at Duke University. He previously wrote the book You’re Hired! Now What? A Guide for New Science Faculty. He lives in Durham, North Carolina.

David Lindo on How to Be an Urban Birder

Urban birding is fast becoming ornithology’s new rock ’n’ roll. Birds and birding have never been cooler—and urban birding is at the cutting edge.

How to Be an Urban Birder is the world’s first guide to the art of urban birding—which is so easy and great fun! Here, urban birding pioneer David Lindo tells you everything you need to know about birds and birding in towns and cities in the UK.

How did you first become interested in urban birding?

I believe that my interest in birds spawned from a previous life. Yes, I was once a Puma! I hunted birds then somewhere along the line I started to watch them. Fade to black. Credits.

Actually, I was born in northwest London with an innate interest in natural history. Initially, it was the invertebrates in my garden that caught my attention. Eventually, by the time I was six birds had entered my life. I had no mentor nor was there anyone around to teach me so I had to educate myself. By the age of eight I was a veritable walking encyclopedia on birds.

What are the characteristics that separate an ‘urban birder’ from a more traditional birder?

The biggest difference between urban versus rural birder is style. Urban Birders tend to wear less green and have a more fashionable look. As an Urban Birder you will have to work harder to tune into nature’s wavelength over the hubbub of the city but once you are locked in you will be on the same wavelength as the folks in the country.

What inspired you to write this book?

How to be An Urban Birder has to be defined as a labor of love. It took me five years to pen and I felt that it was a book that I needed to scribe. Over the years many people have asked me to define Urban Birding so I decided to write the definitive guide to being an urban birder, especially seeing as I am The Urban Birder!

What has been your best experience as an urban birder?

My best moments as an Urban Birder usually occur when I least expect it often in the most innocuous locations. Examples could include an Osprey flying over Covent Gardens in Central London, a Red-naped Sapsucker on a solitary palm tree in the middle of Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles. Staying with LA, I will never forget watching a vagrant wintering Black-and-white Warbler in a rough junkie infested park in the Downtown area!

What about your biggest challenges?

I think that the biggest challenges in my urban birding life is getting members of the general public, local authorities and city councils to protect vulnerable urban sites. All too often the hand of ‘development’ has touched and ruined great urban wildlife spots.

What kinds of people are drawn to urban birding, and how are activities like this important to conservation efforts?

The types of people attracted to Urban Birding are often what I term as ‘bird-curious’. In other words, folk who are curious about birds but typically feel too nervous to get involved. Once these people realize that they do not have to be an expert or even know the names of birds, they come forward.

Urban Birding is a great way to get city people involved in nature. These people may not ever become full blown and paid-up birders but they will at least become aware that nature exists within their urban areas. Hopefully, they will then go on to become part of what I term as the ‘Conservation Army’ – a vast swathe of environmentally aware urbanites who will have empathy for the plight of nature around the world.

What are some tips you’d give to aspiring urban birders who are just starting to bird watch as a hobby?

My main tip to aspiring Urban Birders is to enjoy yourselves. Don’t worry about the need to learn all the names and songs but instead, revel in the excitement of just watching and listening. Over time, the names and identity of the birds will fall into place.

Discover a local patch and make it your own. Visit it on a regular basis and get to know the birds that inhabit the space. You will soon find that your knowledge of birds will increase at an amazing pace. Oh, and don’t forget to look up!

 

David Lindo, popularly known as The Urban Birder, is a naturalist, writer, broadcaster, speaker, photographer, wildlife tour leader and educator. His mission is to connect the city folk of the world with the wonderful wildlife that is all around them—even in the middle of the Concrete Jungle. His motto is simple: Look up! He is also the author of The Urban Birder and Tales from Concrete Jungles: Urban Birding around the World (both Bloomsbury). He is a Londoner and runs the website The Urban Birder World.

You can follow David Lindo on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

Walter Perez on Galápagos

The Galápagos Islands are home to an amazing variety of iconic creatures, from Giant Tortoises, Galápagos Sea Lions, Galápagos Penguins, and Ghost Crabs to Darwin’s finches, the Blue-footed Booby, and Hummingbird Moths. But how precisely do these animals manage to survive on—and in the waters around—their desert-like volcanic islands, where fresh water is always scarce, food is often hard to come by, and finding a good mate is a challenge because animal populations are so small? In this stunning large-format book, Galápagos experts Walter Perez and Michael Weisberg present an unprecedented photographic account of the remarkable survival behaviors of these beautiful and unique animals. With more than 200 detailed, close-up photographs, the book captures Galápagos animals in action as they feed, play, fight, court, mate, build nests, give birth, raise their young, and cooperate and clash with other species.

How did you start as a photographer?

Approximately 30 years ago, my Dad was known as the official photographer for the small town I grew up in. He photographed weddings, baptisms and different events in town. I am not sure if he really understood photography, but I was curious and started to wonder if I could take better pictures. I begged my Dad to let me take a picture with his Polaroid camera. That was the moment I became hooked on photography. 

Moving to the Galapagos as a young teenager, I had the opportunity to buy my first camera and started taking pictures of  the animals to show my family and friends in mainland Ecuador. For the past twelve years working as a Galapagos Naturalist Guide I have met both amateur and professional photographers which became an everyday learning experience.  I also participated in photography workshops with photo experts from National Geographic and Lindblad Expeditions because I enjoyed talking and learning about photography.

With my understanding of the fauna of Galapagos and my photography skills, I was able to create this book.

Do you enjoy working in the Galapagos? Why?

I have lived in the Galapagos for more than twenty years and, for the last twelve years, worked as a Galapagos Naturalist Guide and Photographic Instructor onboard the National Geographic/Lindblad Expeditions ships – the Endeavorand the Islander.

My day-to-day routine in the Galapagos is like attending university; every day is a learning experience because you never know what you are going to see while you are out in the field. People often think that by seeing the same sites and wildlife every day must be boring and tiring, but to be honest it is one of the best jobs on the planet. It is rare that you are paid for doing what you enjoy, like capturing these unique moments in nature with my camera.

Why do you photograph the pictures you do? What is your favorite picture? 

After 12 years of photographing animals in action, I have learned that animals are very unpredictable. Animals that you see everyday in their daily activities can surprise you. You never know when a unique moment in nature may occur. 

Working as a photographer and naturalist in the Galapagos, I have become an expert in anticipating and predicting what is going to happen with the wildlife around me. I capture unique moments in nature that you will probably never see or have a chance to photograph again.  As a visitor to the Galapagos, you may be lucky enough to see one unique moment. However, the likelihood of realizing that this moment was a unique in nature is low. For me, being able to photographically document and share these unusual occurrences is the reason behind the book. Because of this truth, I do not have a single favorite photograph. All of them are my favorites because each shot is unique.

When taking a picture, how many shots do you take of the same action?

Working in the Galapagos as a photographer and naturalist for more than twelve years has given me a deep understanding of animal behavior. It is like going to a zoo but with one exception—you are inside the enclosure and a part of the story. 

Being part of the story has given me the opportunity to predict the precise moments when animals are ready to fight, mate, steal and eat. I am always ready to capture that precise moment in time when nature’s movements occur, when I hold the shutter button down I capture the movements of the wildlife. The end result of these subjects in action became the title of the book: Galapagos: Life in Motion.

How would you describe your day to day life in the Galapagos? 

Working in the Galapagos is like a dream come true. I never imagined that I would have to get up at the crack of dawn to head to work, and that my office would be in the field in the Galapagos archipelago. Every day I escort people onto the different islands and explain the importance of the Galapagos to the guests. Watching the expression on the faces of both adults and children as they explore this enchanted land is rewarding and brightens my day.

 

Walter Perez is a photographer and naturalist who has been working in the Galápagos for two decades. His award-winning photograph of a Great Frigatebird stealing nesting material from a Red-footed Booby, Battle of the Sticks, which is featured in this book, is on permanent display at the University of Connecticut’s Stamford campus. He lives in Galápagos, Ecuador.