Book Review: NO SPECIES IS AN ISLAND by Theodore H Fleming

No Species Is an Island

I don’t review many non-fiction books, but NO SPECIES IS AN ISLAND: Bats, Cacti, and Secrets of the Sonoran Desert by Theodore H Fleming is an exception for multiple reasons. For starters, I have been a citizen scientist on a study of nectar-eating bats for a decade – a study spearheaded by the author, which measures bat activity at hummingbird feeders in the desert southwest. Yes, where I live, we have night raiders who clean out our hummingbird nectar each evening from July through early December. (My bats departed on Dec. 2).

No Species Is an IslandWhile the entire focus of NO SPECIES IS AN ISLAND is not about the bats, it does talk about the incredible distances these unique bats (almost all pregnant females) migrate from Mexico to the southern US, where they find suitable maternity roosts in abandoned mines and caves. Their paths are predicted by the availability of flowering columnar cacti into the United States.

The book mostly is a study of the migratory pollinators of various cacti at a nondescript desert scrubland area in Sonora, Mexico (including the bats, but also other birds, hummingbirds and moths) and the interdependence they have on one another.

In essence, this little book offers lessons about the future of these bats, birds, moths, and plants – and serves as a warning regarding possible environmental peril if migratory stops such as the one in Sonora are eliminated. And there is a real current threat, as mesquite and ironwood trees are harvested in greater numbers (these trees are ‘host’ plants under which cacti most often grow and thrive), and as recreational resorts pop up on this nondescript ‘scrub’ land that is anything but.

Fleming writes that its demise would mean elimination of “the feeding and resting grounds of dozens of migrant and resident vertebrates… Cut out large chunks of wildlands along migratory routes, and many hummingbirds and songbirds will fail to reach their breeding grounds – places where they play important roles as insect predators, seed dispersers and seed predators in their northern habitats. And in their absence, a silent spring will surely follow.” And such demise would naturally hold true for the bats, as well.

The title, NO SPECIES IS AN ISLAND, refers to the fact that no species stands alone on this Earth. Change one part of the ecosystem or take one species out, and the balance is altered indefinitely. That message, naturally, makes the book timely in the face of population growth and global warming trends (and makes me hold my breath for the future).


(A version of Melissa Crytzer Fry’s review of NO SPECIES IS AN ISLAND by Theodore H Fleming was published at GoodReads on Dec 18, 2018. It is reposted here with the permission of the reviewer.)



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