Boom & Bust: Bird Stories for a Dry Country.
Article Type: Book review
Subject: Books (Book reviews)
Author: Davis, William E.
Pub Date: 12/01/2009
Publication: Name: The Wilson Journal of Ornithology Publisher: Wilson Ornithological Society Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Biological sciences Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2009 Wilson Ornithological Society ISSN: 1559-4491
Issue: Date: Dec, 2009 Source Volume: 121 Source Issue: 4
Topic: NamedWork: Boom and Bust: Bird Stories for a Dry Country (Nonfiction work)
Persons: Reviewee: Robin, Libby; Heinsohn, Robert; Joseph, Leo
Accession Number: 216267564
Full Text: BOOM & BUST: BIRD STORIES FOR A DRY COUNTRY. By Libby Robin, Robert Heinsohn, and Leo Joseph, Editors. CSIRO Publishing, Collingwood, Victoria, Australia. 2009: xi + 299 pages, 3 figures, 1 table, and 12 black-and-white illustrations. ISBN: 978-0-643-09606-6. AUD$39.95 (cloth).--Australia has vast areas of arid or semi-arid land, the ecology of which has been profoundly effected by two human invasions, the first about 55,000 years ago by people who managed the environment with fire to enhance hunting, and the second in the late 18th century by Europeans. These dry areas are subject to extreme environmental variability-drought to flood--and are especially challenging because of uncertainty when a resulting boom or bust period will occur. This book uses a selection of bird species to examine the range of adaptations that have evolved to cope with an absence of regular cyclical seasons and periods of rainfall, and the resulting irregular periods of boom or bust for the species that live there. The authors of the chapter "Introduction: Boom or Bust" note that with prediction of less rainfall in the future as part of climate change, people need to understand natural rhythms of dry areas if they are to successfully manage anthropogenic change in the future.

The book is divided into 12 chapters, the last 10 of which focus on individual bird species and their adaptations and ecology in an arid land. The second chapter, "The Boom and Bust Desert World: A Bird's Eye View" provides an overview of "... the relationship between ornithological ideas and our understanding of deserts," and reviews Australian ornithology in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and the work of professional ornithologists in the arid zone. The third chapter discusses the Black-tailed Nativehen (Tribonyx [Gallinula] ventralis), a rail which irrupts into the dry interior after substantial rains and retreats towards the coast with drought. The fourth chapter discusses the Zebra Finch (Taeniopygia guttata) whose reproductive activities are tied to seasonal pulses in grasses. Chapter five describes the Grey Teal (Anas gracilis) and its extraordinary ability to locate temporary inland wetlands, and its nomadic movements from one ephemeral food source to another. Chapter six discusses the Australian Pelican (Pelecanus conspicillatus) that moves to the occasionally flooded interior to form breeding colonies of 100,000+ birds, then returns to coastal areas around the country. The next two chapters present what is know of the ecologies of the nocturnal Night Parrot (Pezoporus occidentalis) and Genyornis newtoni, a 275 kg goose-like fossil bird. The chapter "Rainbirds: Organising the Country," mentions rainbirds, a crane, and several cuckoo species that arrive and are vocal about the time of early rains, but chiefly concerns Aboriginal people, their ties to the natural world, and their adaptations for living in an unpredictable environment. The tenth chapter focuses on the evolution of several species of woodswallows (Artamidae) to emphasize that long-term evolutionary and ecological processes underlie the boom and bust phenomenon. The penultimate chapter "White-winged Choughs [Corcorax melanorhamphos]: The Social Consequences of Boom and Bust" follows this cooperatively breeding, highly social species through periods of boom and bust. During periods of boom they live in groups of up to 20 birds that cooperate to eke out a living in a harsh landscape. During periods of bust (drought years), they experience a societal collapse with "gang warfare" and "group-based power struggles" that the author presents as analogous to the behavior of human societies that are ecologically stressed. The final chapter "Emu: National Symbols and Ecological Limits" treats the Emu (Dromaius novaehollandiae), which appears on the Australian coat of arms, and the name for the professional journal of Birds Australia. It is the quintessential dry country nomadic bird, moving hundreds of kilometers from one patchily distributed resource to another in response to irregular rain and fire conditions that control the boom and bust cycles.

This is an attractive book with each chapter beginning with a black-and-white rendition of mostly John Gould portraits of the focal bird species. The chapters are generally well-written and contribute to the goal of using birds of the dry country and their adaptations to gain understanding of the problems facing ecosystems in an unpredictable, boom and bust environment. About 40 pages of the book consist of end notes that provide references and peripheral information. A useful selected bibliography lists 153 references. The authors include, in addition to ornithologists and ecologists, an archaeologist, a Professor of Social Inclusion, and a historian, which broadens the perspective of the book. There are many lessons to be learned in this book by those of us who live in the Northern Hemisphere with somewhat regular annual cycles, at a time when we move with uncertainty into a period of global warming. I found the book thoughtful and informative. I recommend it--it is a good read.--WILLIAM E. DAVIS JR., Professor Emeritus, Boston University, 23 Knollwood Drive, East Falmouth, MA 02536, USA; e-mail:
Gale Copyright: Copyright 2009 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.