A Desert Calling: Life in a Forbidding Landscape

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9780674007475: A Desert Calling: Life in a Forbidding Landscape

For most of us the word "desert" conjures up images of barren wasteland, vast, dry stretches inimical to life. But for a great array of creatures, perhaps even more plentiful than those who inhabit tropical rainforests, the desert is a haven and a home. Travel with Michael Mares into the deserts of Argentina, Iran, Egypt, and the American Southwest and you will encounter a rich and memorable variety of these small, tenacious animals, many of them first discovered by Mares in areas never before studied. Accompanying Mares on his forays into these hostile habitats, we observe the remarkable behavioral, physiological, and ecological adaptations that have allowed such little-known species of rodents, bats, and other small mammals to persist in an arid world. At the same time, we see firsthand the perils and pitfalls that await biologists who venture into the field to investigate new habitats, discover new species, and add to our knowledge of the diversity of life.

Filled with the seductions and trials that such adventures entail, A Desert Calling affords an intimate understanding of the biologist's vocation. As he astonishes us with the range and variety of knowledge to be acquired through the determined investigation of little-known habitats, Mares opens a window on his own uncommon life, as well as on the uncommon life of the remote and mysterious corners of our planet.

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About the Author:

Michael A. Mares is Curator of Mammals and Director of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History at the University of Oklahoma.

Stephen Jay Gould was the Alexander Agassiz Professor of Zoology at Harvard University and Vincent Astor Visiting Professor of Biology at New York University. A MacArthur Prize Fellow, he received innumerable honors and awards and wrote many books, including Ontogeny and Phylogeny and Time's Arrow, Time's Cycle (both from Harvard).

Review:

It is a testament to [Mares's] love of biology and his abilities as a writer that he is able to convey the excitement that accompanies the discovery of a new species after surviving the numerous hardships of extended fieldwork...Illustrated with numerous photos and maps, this unique book also includes a thorough bibliography and should appeal to both lay readers and scholars. (Tim Markus Library Journal 2002-04-01)

The word desert, from the Latin deserare ("abandoned"), evokes a hot, dry wasteland. This view could not be further from the truth, as field biologist Mares shows in this marvelous examination of the lives of desert animals. Drawing on more than 30 years of studying the less charismatic animals of the deserts--the rodents, bats, and other small mammals--the author writes of his search for insights into how these animals adapt to the harsh desert environment. (Nancy Bent Booklist 2002-04-01)

Mares has spent 30 years studying desert mammals in Argentina, Iran, Egypt and the American Southwest. Along the way, he also collected stories that read like thoughtful adventures, and he gained an appreciation of how life on Earth has evolved to fit radically variable circumstances. Desert Calling is the autobiography of Mares's own evolution as a naturalist woven into a lively tapestry that includes fascinating science and eloquent advocacy...Whether American deserts become off-road vehicle theme parks and radioactive dumps or are protected will depend on our point of view. We respect the integrity of harsh landscapes only when we recognize it. Mares opens the window for a clearer view. (Chip Ward Washington Post 2002-04-21)

Mares...disputes the common belief that desert regions are inhospitable to life. Over the past 30 years, Mares has lived in the deserts of Argentina, Iran, Egypt, and the United States and has studied small mammals that live and thrive there. In A Desert Calling, he paints amazing portraits of the ways rodents and other creatures--some unknown to scientists until Mares found them--adapt to this hot, dry terrain...Mares makes his case for fieldwork over lab study and encourages his peers to become "foot soldiers of natural history." Lively descriptions of his own experiences in the wild make the idea quite tempting. (Science News 2002-06-22)

Michael Mares has been looking at deserts, and seeing more than most. Sometimes, in fact, [he sees] what no one has seen before...He allows the marvels of nature and evolution to carry [his] narrative. But it's also his story, an autobiography of sorts about the hardships and thrills of field work. This is smart reading for those who dream of doing science in the field. (Scott LaFee San Diego Union-Tribune 2002-06-16)

Mares [is] a world authority on desert mammals...Much of A Desert Calling is devoted to the joys and tribulations of fieldwork in environments unfriendly, both in climate and politics. But Mares includes many pointed reminders, to general readers and fellow scientists, about the importance of deserts, which are richer in mammal species, at least, than the lush tropical rainforests that dominate the discussions of how to preserve biodiversity. (Jonathan Beard New Scientist 2002-05-04)

U.S. zoologist and curator Michael Mares traveled to deserts in Argentina, Iran, Egypt and the U.S. South-west to examine in minute detail the surprisingly lush life of these harsh and hostile habitats. He tells of rich and complex systems of small, tenacious animals--which in many cases he was the first scientist to observe and record--and discusses the remarkable behavioral, physiological and ecological adaptations that have allowed these little-known species of rodents, bats and other small mammals to survive and even thrive in landscapes most of us would consider barren wasteland. (Globe and Mail 2002-07-13)

Most people think of deserts as hot, dry and barren wastelands. However, this new book, which centers on Michael Mares's long career as a biologist in remote deserts, reveals them to be teeming with life...This book offers plenty of adventure--from Mares barely finding his way out of a deep cave while looking for bats in Mexico, to almost being struck by falling 100-foot trees in Costa Rica, to wild jeep-riding in an Iranian desert, to being lost in Argentina's thorn desert, to attacks by "kissing bugs"...From continual denial that he worked for the CIA while in Iran to the discovery of a new species of mouse in Argentina, the book is loaded with fascinating stories well off the tourist track. (Lynn Arave Salt Lake City Desert News 2002-06-07)

Michael Mares has experienced the good and bad points of deserts more than most, having spent several decades engaged in field biology in deserts all over the world...This scientific work forms the backbone of his new book and makes a fascinating story in its own right. But what makes this autobiographical volume particularly engaging is its first-hand account of what it is actually like to work as a field biologist...A Desert Calling is a thoroughly good read for armchair biologists, but it can be especially recommended for anyone planning to do fieldwork. Read it and you will set off with your eyes open. (John A. Lee Biologist 2002-10-01)

While Mares tells of the excitements and frustrations of fieldwork, he also provides much information about desert mammals, and their adaptations to life in an extreme and harsh environment, making the book a pleasant blend of diary and textbook...He describes his work as hard, dangerous but deeply rewarding, with the excitement of new discoveries and unknown places. (Yoram Yom-Tov Times Literary Supplement 2003-01-17)

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