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The Song of the Dodo: Island Biogeography in an Age of Extinction

David Quammen

Top 10 Best Quotes

“The next day, William Lanney's much abused remains were carried in a coffin to the cemetery. The crowd of mourners was large. It included many of Lanney's shipmates, suggesting that the whaling profession in late-nineteenth-century Hobart was graced with a higher level of humanistic sensibility than the surgical profession.”

“Imagine a single survivor, a lonely fugitive at large on mainland Mauritius at the end of the seventeenth century. Imagine this fugitive as a female. She would have been bulky and flightless and befuddled—but resourceful enough to have escaped and endured when the other birds didn’t. Or else she was lucky. Maybe she had spent all her years in the Bambous Mountains along the southeastern coast, where the various forms of human-brought menace were slow to penetrate. Or she might have lurked in a creek drainage of the Black River Gorges. Time and trouble had finally caught up with her. Imagine that her last hatchling had been snarfed by a [invasive] feral pig. That her last fertile egg had been eaten by a [invasive] monkey. That her mate was dead, clubbed by a hungry Dutch sailor, and that she had no hope of finding another. During the past halfdozen years, longer than a bird could remember, she had not even set eyes on a member of her own species. Raphus cucullatus had become rare unto death. But this one flesh-and-blood individual still lived. Imagine that she was thirty years old, or thirty-five, an ancient age for most sorts of bird but not impossible for a member of such a large-bodied species. She no longer ran, she waddled. Lately she was going blind. Her digestive system was balky. In the dark of an early morning in 1667, say, during a rainstorm, she took cover beneath a cold stone ledge at the base of one of the Black River cliffs. She drew her head down against her body, fluffed her feathers for warmth, squinted in patient misery. She waited. She didn't know it, nor did anyone else, but she was the only dodo on Earth. When the storm passed, she never opened her eyes. This is extinction.”

“A high jeopardy of extinction comes with territory. Islands are where species go to die.”

“There’s a voice that says: "So what?" It’s not my voice, it’s probably not yours, but it makes itself heard in the arenas of public opinion, querulous and smug and fortified by just a little knowledge, which as always is a dangerous thing. "So what if a bunch of species go extinct?" It says. "Extinction is a natural process. Darwin himself said so, didn’t he? Extinction is the complement of evolution, making room for new species to evolve. There have always been extinctions. So why worry about these extinctions currently being caused by humanity?" And there has always been a pilot light burning in your furnace. So why worry when your house is on fire?”

“Once a species of insect or bird has reached a new island and established a population, evolution toward gigantism does offer certain advantages: fat storage, thermal stability, and defense against predators, if there are any. But gigantism is also a way of becoming flightless, and flightlessness is a way of becoming marooned.”

“Its evolutionary adaptability is largely gone. Ecologically, it has become moribund. Sheer chance, among other factors, is working against it. The toilet of its destiny has been flushed.”

“Every species has come into existence coincident both in space and time with a pre-existing closely allied species. Description or law, it challenged the theory of special creation and bruited the idea of evolution in a tone of thunderous innuendo.”

“What are they called? Sprackles, shakums, edible sequins, glossy sugar deedeebobs, I don't know. Instead of sprinkling them on a cookie, I sprinkle them on Angel de la Guarda.”

“Two men, on opposite sides of the world, had made the same great discovery at the same time.”

“Then a very large komodo breaks into view, spooked by our trespass, and scrambles up the vertical face of the bluff, like an alligator scaling a four-story building.”

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Book Keywords:

science, so-what, darwin, future, extinction, humor, biogeography, dodo-bird, extinctions

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