Book Review: The Natural History of the UC Santa Cruz Campus (Second Edition)

by on November 14, 2008

 

 

 

The Natural History of the UC Santa Cruz Campus (Second Edition), edited by Tonya M. Haff, Martha T. Brown, and W. Breck Tyler. Bay Tree Bookstore, 2008, 361 pages, $12.95

“UC Santa Cruz may be the best campus in the nation for observing wildlife,” begins one chapter of the second edition of “The Natural History of the UC Santa Cruz Campus.” More than a simple revision of the much-beloved quarter-century old guide, this new edition is a significantly expanded text, with dozens of new photographs and illustrations, updated descriptions of the local flora and fauna and new chapters on the fungi, lichens, and animals that inhabit campus.

No lesser eminences than E.O. Wilson and Paul Ehrlich lend their recommendation on the back cover, and with good reason: the full attention of so many naturalist contributors focused on such a small tract of land help to make the book one of the better studies of local natural history ever assembled. Part textbook and part field guide, the book leads its reader in the style of a nature walk through the karst sinkholes, redwood forests, salamander-laden ravines and cultivated acres of campus. Along the way, carefully selected anecdotes illuminate more than might be seen at first glance: a guide to Manzanita burls, for instance, leads to a discussion of differing evolutionary strategies for coping with fire in a chaparral ecosystem. In another chapter, a catalogue of bird songs becomes a guide to tracking the movements of mammals through avian alarm calls. The book is also full of suggestions for hands-on study, from creating soot trays to track wood rats to tips on measuring newt length.

Of course, the campus is far from pristine wilderness, and the book explores the history of its human habitation, from Ohlone settlements to the mission period, land grants to the founding of the university. Though there is an undeniable note of sadness in this retelling of the ever-expanding human use of the land, this book is no elegy. Rather, it is an exhortation to get out and examine for yourself the land and life which persists alongside us.

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