Why post a bookshelf about climate change and biodiversity on Columbus Day? Because the exchange of species between the Old and New Worlds in the wake of Columbus’s voyages is the only other time in recorded history that humans scrambled the biosphere in a way that even approximates what is beginning to happen with climate change.*

The 12 books highlighted below provide overviews of the likely impacts of climate change on biodiversity, historical and species-specific case studies, surveys of habitats and ecosystems, and reflections on places, policies, and practices. The descriptions are drawn from copy provided by the publishers.

A companion post, scheduled for next week, will highlight reports on climate change and biodiversity released by environmental organizations, international agencies, and research centers.


Book collage 1

Climate Change and Biodiversity, edited by Thomas Lovejoy and Lee Hannah (Yale University Press 2006, 440 pages, $45.00)

Leading researchers discuss what is now known about the effects of climate change on the natural world. They examine recent trends in and projections about climate change; ways that particular organisms are responding to climate change; conservation challenges, including social and policy issues; and more.

“This book will be a milestone in the emerging discipline of climate change biology. No issue is more important for the global environment; the impressive line-up of experts here gives it definitive coverage.” – Edward O. Wilson, Harvard University

Heatstroke: Nature in an Age of Global Warming, by Anthony D., Barnosky (Island Press 2009, 269 pages, 25.00 paperback)

In 2006, one of the hottest years on record, a “pizzly” was discovered near the top of the world. Half polar bear, half grizzly, this never-before-seen animal might be dismissed as a fluke of nature. Anthony Barnosky instead sees it as a harbinger of things to come. In Heatstroke, the renowned paleoecologist shows how global warming is fundamentally changing the natural world and its creatures. Plants and animals that have followed the same rhythms for millennia are suddenly being confronted with a world they’re unprepared for. This is not the first time climate change has dramatically transformed Earth. The differences now are that climate change is faster and hotter than past changes, and for the first time humanity is driving it.

Driven to Extinction: The Impact of Climate Change on Biodiversity, by Richard Pearson (American Museum of Natural History 2011, 264 pages, $22.95)

Climate change is real, and so is the threat it poses to the diversity of plants and animals that inhabit Earth. Yet debate on this topic has been polarized by catastrophists who fret that we are heading toward total disaster and skeptics who insist that there is nothing to worry about. In Driven to Extinction, Richard Pearson shows that the threat posed to biodiversity by climate change increases the risk of extinction, especially when combined with habitat destruction and the influx of non-native species. But he is no alarmist. He warns against predictions of doom, highlighting the often unexpected ways in which nature can adapt to environmental change. In doing so, he deepens our understanding of what science does and does not know, and contributes a unique perspective to the debate: not who is to blame, but what is to be done.

Contexts and cases

Book collage 2

Greenhouse of the Dinosaurs: Evolution, Extinction, and the Future of Our Planet, by Donald R. Prothero (Columbia University Press 2009, 274 pages, $35.00)

Bringing his trademark style and wit to an increasingly relevant subject, Prothero links the climate changes that have occurred over the past 200 million years to their effects on plants and animals. Prothero begins with the “greenhouse of the dinosaurs,” the global-warming episode that dominated the Age of Dinosaurs and the early Age of Mammals. Prothero then discusses the growth of the first Antarctic glaciers, which marked the Eocene-Oligocene transition. The volume concludes with observations about Nisqually Glacier and other locations that show how global warming is happening much quicker than previously predicted. Engaging scientists and general readers alike, Greenhouse of the Dinosaurs connects events across thousands of millennia to make clear the human threat to natural climate change.

Birds and Climate Change: Impacts and Conservation Responses, by James W. Pearce-Higgins and Rhys E. Green (Cambridge University Press 2014, 477 pages, $77.00 paperback)

From the red grouse to the Ethiopian bush-crow, bird populations around the world can provide us with vital insights into the effects of climate change on species and ecosystems. This book begins with a critical review of the existing impacts of climate change on birds, including changes in the timing of migration and breeding and effects on bird populations around the world. The second part considers how conservationists can assess potential future impacts, quantifying how extinction risk is linked to the magnitude of global change and synthesizing the evidence in support of likely conservation responses. The final chapters assess the threats posed by efforts to reduce the magnitude of climate change.

Tracking Gobi Grizzlies: Surviving Beyond the Back of Beyond, by Douglas Chadwick (Patagonia 2016, 286 pages, $24.95)

An adventure memoir and an environmental parable emerge from this portrait of a mysterious but critical species living in a seemingly desolate but actually widely diverse and threatened ecosystem. In the tradition of Douglas Chadwick’s best-selling book, The Wolverine Way, Tracking Gobi Grizzlies creates a portrait of these rarest of bears’ fight for survival in one of the toughest, most remote settings on Earth. He demonstrates why saving this endangered animal supports an entire ecosystem made up of hundreds of interconnected plants and animals, from desert roses to Asiatic lynx and wild double-humped camels, all adapting as best they can to the effects of climate change. A parable of environmental stewardship in a legendary realm.

Habitats and ecosystems

Book collage 3

No Rain in Amazon: How South America’s Climate Change Affects the Entire Planet, by Nikolas Kosloff (St. Martin’s Press 2010, 256 pages $7.99 ebook)

Acting as the planet’s air conditioner, the rainforest sucks up millions of tons of greenhouse gases and stores them safely out of the atmosphere. South America’s deforestation threatens to unleash a kind of “carbon bomb” that will add to our already deteriorating climate difficulties. As he travels across Peru and Brazil, recognized South America expert Nikolas Kozloff talks to locals, scientists and activists about the rainforest and what should be done to avert its collapse. Drawing on his expertise of South American politics, Kozloff argues that cooperation between the world’s countries is essential in turning back the tide of climate change and that the fate of the planet depends on our response to environmental problems within the southern hemisphere.

Tropical Rainforest Responses to Climate Change, 2E, edited by Mark Bush, John Flenley, and William Gosling (Springer 2011, 454 pages, $239.00)

Tropical Rainforest Responses to Climatic Change (2E), looks at how tropical rain forest ecology is altered by climate change. A major theme of the book is the interaction between humans, climate and forest ecology. The authors, all foremost experts in their fields, explore the long term occupation of tropical systems, the influence of fire and the future climatic effects of deforestation, together with anthropogenic emissions. Incorporating modelling of past and future systems paves the way for a discussion of conservation from a climatic perspective, rather than the usual plea to stop logging. This new edition updates the chapters from the first edition, and includes two entirely new chapters that deal with Central America and the effect of fire on wet forest systems.

Finding Higher Ground: Adaptation in the Age of Global Warming, by Amy Seidl (Beacon Press 2012, 244 pages, $20.00)

While much of the global warming conversation rightly focuses on reducing our carbon footprint, the reality is that even if we were to immediately cease emissions, we would still face climate change into the next millennium. In Finding Higher Ground, Amy Seidl takes the uniquely positive – yet realistic – position that humans and animals can adapt and persist despite these changes. Drawing on an emerging body of scientific research, Seidl offers examples of how plants, insects, birds, and mammals are already adapting both behaviorally and genetically. In looking at climate change as an opportunity to establish new cultural norms, Seidl inspires readers to move beyond loss and offers a refreshing call to evolve.

Places, policies, and practices

Book collage 4

Biodiversity and Climate Change: Linkages at International, National and Local Levels, edited by Frank Maes, An Cliquet, Willemien du Plessis, and Heather McLeod-Kilmurray (Edward Elgar 2013, 488 pages, $42.95 paperback)

This insightful book deals with the complexity of linking biodiversity with climate change. It combines perspectives from international, national and local case studies and focuses on a number of key topics and examples: ecosystem services, human rights, forestation and deforestation, biosecurity, protected areas, mountain biodiversity, the Amazon rainforest, agricultural policy in the EU and patent licensing. Clearly demonstrating linkages between biodiversity law and climate change law and stimulating new ideas for future research, this book will be a valuable reference tool for academics, researchers, students and policy-makers.

Climate Change and Rocky Mountain Ecosystems, edited by Jessica Halofsky and David L. Peterson (Springer 2018, 236 pages, $129.00)

This book is product of approximately 100 scientists and resource managers who worked together for two years to understand the effects of climatic variability and change on water resources, fisheries, forest vegetation, non-forest vegetation, wildlife, recreation, cultural resources and ecosystem services. The chapters provide technical assessments of the effects of climatic variability and change on natural and cultural resources, based on best available science, including new analyses obtained through modeling and synthesis of existing data. Each chapter also contains a summary of adaptation strategies (general) and tactics (on-the-ground actions) that have been developed by science-management teams.

Grand Canyon for Sale: Public Lands Versus Private Interests in the Era of Climate Change, by Stephen Nash (University of California 2017, 304 pages, $29.95)

Grand Canyon for Sale investigates the precarious future of America’s public lands: our national parks, forests, wildlife refuges, monuments, and wildernesses. Taking the Grand Canyon as his key example, and using on-the-ground reporting as well as scientific research, Stephen Nash shows how accelerating climate change will dislocate wildlife populations and vegetation across hundreds of thousands of square miles of the national landscape. In addition, a growing political movement, well financed and occasionally violent, is fighting to break up these federal lands and return them to state, local, and private control, a scheme would foreclose the future for many wild species. Grand Canyon for Sale provides an excellent overview of the physical, biological, and political challenges facing public lands.

*For a rich description of the New World before Columbus’ voyages, and for a detailed description and explanation of what happened afterwards, see Charles Mann’s historical duology, 1491 and 1493.

Michael Svoboda

Michael Svoboda

Michael Svoboda, Ph.D., is the Yale Climate Connections books editor. He is a professor in the University Writing Program at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C., where he has taught since...