The Great Lakes: The Natural History of a Changing Region

The Great Lakes: The Natural History of a Changing Region

by Wayne Grady

Ever since French explorer Samuel de Champlain's first taste of what he called "la mer douce" -- the freshwater sea -- the Great Lakes have been admired, exploited, and renewed.

Written by one of North America's most acclaimed science and nature writers, the book explores the area's geological formation and its role in human history; its diverse plant, bird, and animal species; and its significant physical, climatic, and environmental features.

This captivating tribute to the Great Lakes region is also an essential guide to the challenge of preserving the natural world.

  • Language: English
  • Category: Environment
  • Rating: 4.12
  • Pages: 320
  • Publish Date: October 28th 2007 by Greystone Books
  • Isbn10: 1553651979
  • Isbn13: 9781553651970

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There is some human history Native American and European of the region, the author discussing for instance how Champlain dubbed the waters of Georgian Bay (and by extension, the entire Great Lakes) la mer douce (the freshwater sea). Though the Great Lakes has a rich fossil history, I hadnt realized that thanks to the glaciers of the Pleistocene, geologically speaking, there is virtually nothing in the Great Lakes basin between the Devonian and the recent past, something referred to sometimes as the Big Gap. Lots of interesting paleontology is explored briefly (accompanied by a few illustrations), such as that in 1888 British ornithologist Henry Seebohm proposed a theory of adaptive radiation for shorebirds, that alternating periods of cooling and warming drove waves of shorebirds from their homes in the polar regions, each wave becoming separated populations that eventually developed into different species (a difference of a few degrees of longitude at the start could mean the difference between one destination in southern North America and another in tropical Asia) and that archaeological sites in such places as Gainey, Michigan and Cardoc, Ontario showed that Native Americans hunted a variety of now extinct megafauna such as woolly mammoths and mastodons. The Great Lakes basin portion represents the southernmost extent of the boreal forest, a close-canopied forest in which the predominant tree species are a black and white spruce, jack pine, and to a lesser extent, red and white pine, balsam fir, and tamarack along with quaking and big-toothed aspen, paper birch, and balsam poplar. Chapter three isnt all about the trees though, as the author delves into sphagnum moss (a host to entire colonies of microbes, insects, and worms, which in turn feed a wide variety of vertebrates, that like a coral reef in an oceanacts as a living substrate for hundreds of complex and interdependent organisms), woodland caribou (increasingly scarce and unlike their northern counterparts do not migrate and do not form large herds), the many owls that call the forest home, and the irrepressible gray jay, sometimes called the moose bird, the venison heron, or whiskey jack or whisky john, a corruption of its Cree name, wis-ka-tjon. Trees once again get a good portion of the chapter as the author discussed the major species of this region the sugar maple, American beech, yellow birch, American basswood, eastern hemlock, eastern white cedar, and eastern white pine. Chapter five was focused on the Carolinian forest, dominant in the southeastern portion of the Great Lakes basin, a species rich ecosystem that is an exotic incursion of tropical lushness into the temperate zone, an intriguing hint of the southern bayou country (though that is a characterization I would take exception to, as this region he describes is not particularly bayou like and is a dominant type of forest though the warm temperate southeastern United States). Chapter eight is titled Invasions and is about the natural history and impact of the many introduced species of the Great Lakes basin, notably carp (which do well in eutrophied lakes such as Lake Erie which have very little oxygen and unfortunately in their feeding disturb lake bottoms, depriving native fish of spawning sites and killing plants that are the main food supply of many species), zebra mussels (the discussion of which includes information on native Great Lakes mollusks and the Great Pearl Rush of the late 1850s), introduced salmon, gobies (the round goby may comprise upwards of 50% of the fish biomass of the Lower Great Lakes), garlic mustard, and purple loosestrife (the latter two weeds on land).

My only criticism is that, after stating that "dunes support more unique species of plants, insects, and animals than any other ecosystem in the Great Lakes", the author proceeds to devote exactly three paragraphs to describing them.

The later chapters, to may delight, were very interesting and readable. In light of the recent disclosures of fudged data and outright deception by those promoting global warming, I would have preferred a more conservative approach to predicting the lakes' future.

The Great Lakes: The Natural History of a Changing Region, by Wayne Grady, 2007.

The book obviously can't go very deep into each subject, it would just be too much.

He has also written such works of science and nature as The Bone Museum, Bringing Back the Dodo, The Quiet Limit of the World, and The Great Lakes, which won a National Outdoor Book Award in the U.S. With his wife, novelist Merilyn Simonds, he co-authored Breakfast at the Exit Café: Travels Through America.