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The Future Eaters


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Who destroys or "eats" the future? Those who have not shared a past: coevolution is the key to survival of all species, maintains Flannery, a senior research scientist in mammalogy at the Australian Museum in Sydney. Just as human immunities have failed when confronted with previously isolated viruses, so entire ecosystems have crumbled with the introduction of man. Australia, New Zealand, New Caledonia and New Guinea make for an interesting case study: though once conjoined, they later separated, developing disparate climates and soil types. Equally important, they were colonized at different times, with man reaching Australia 45,000 to 60,000 years ago and New Caledonia just 3500 years ago. Flannery posits that these virgin islands, which were replete with unexploited resources, naïve, almost ``tame,'' herbivores and no real competition from other predators, allowed man to make ``the great leap forward'' to become not just one species among many but the species. New virgin territories presented other opportunities for wealth, population growth, leisure and subsequent leaps forward. But the cost is invariably great: human populations soar, then drop as food sources become extinct or soil is exhausted and imported ideas of agriculture, husbandry and hunting slowly give way to environmental reality‘reality that is particularly harsh to Australia's poor soil. With great skill and research, Flannery demonstrates the subtle interaction that makes an ecosystem work, from glaciers to fire, from dung beetles to man. In the process he makes a formidable, sometimes frightening argument for careful cooperation with‘rather than domination of‘the world. (Oct.)

During the ice ages, when the sea level was low, Australia, New Guinea, Tasmania, and smaller islands reemerged as a single landmass known as Meganesia, connected to Antarctica. Harsh conditions selected those species most adapted to the cold: amphibians, marsupials, monotremes‘species with lower metabolic rates and low energy needs. When Meganesia separated from Antarctica 36 million years ago, species extinctions began. Isolated from the rest of the world, Australia developed unique flora and fauna to become a land rich in minerals and fossils but having the poorest soil of any continent because of geological inactivity. The first Australians consumed without replacing resources they would need in the future; later-arriving Europeans destroyed even more. In this fascinating, thought-provoking ecological history of his homeland, Flannery, a senior research scientist at the Australian Museum in Sydney, reveals how humans‘and other species‘transplanted out of their original habitat become "future eaters" by the indiscriminate consumption of a land's resources. Flannery voices his theories and opinions while also presenting opposing viewpoints, creating a well-balanced, extremely readable treatise. Highly recommended for all collections.‘Gloria Maxwell, Kansas City P.L., Kansas

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