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The Environmental Legacy of the UC Natural Reserve System

Copyright Date: 2013
Edition: 1
Pages: 286
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    The Environmental Legacy of the UC Natural Reserve System
    Book Description:

    The UC Natural Reserve System, established in 1965 to support field research, teaching, and public service in natural environments, has become a prototype of conservation and land stewardship looked to by natural resource managers throughout the world. From its modest beginnings of seven sites, the UC NRS has grown to encompass more than 750,000 wildland acres. This book tells the story of how a few forward-thinking UC faculty, who’d had their research plots and teaching spots destroyed by development and habitat degradation, devised a way to save representative examples of many of California’s major ecosystems. Working together with conservation-minded donors and landowners, with state and federal agencies, and with land trusts and private conservation organizations, they founded what would become the world’s largest university-administered natural reserve system—a legacy of lasting significance and utility. This lavishly illustrated volume, which includes images by famed photographers Ansel Adams and Galen Rowell, describes the natural and human histories of the system’s many reserves. Located throughout California, these wildland habitats range from coastal tide pools to inland deserts, from lush wetlands to ancient forests, and from vernal pools to oak savannas. By supporting teaching, research, and public service within such protected landscapes, the UC NRS contributes to the understanding and wise stewardship of the Earth.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95364-2
    Subjects: Ecology & Evolutionary Biology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
    Alexander N. Glazer
    (pp. xv-1)

      (pp. 4-8)
      Kenneth S. Norris

      In 1948, Ken Norris was a graduate student in the laboratory of zoologist Ray Cowles at the Los Angeles campus of the University of California. For his dissertation, he decided to study the heat-tolerant desert iguana (Dipsosaurus dorsalis) of the Coachella Valley. Norris spent weeks in the dunes at the edge of Palm Springs observing these reptiles in their natural habitat. The experience sparked a lifelong quest to secure wildlands for teaching and research. The following are excerpts from his last book,Mountain Time(2010), published posthumously.

      At one point in the spring, I had noticed half a dozen lath...

      (pp. 9-29)
      Peter S. Alagona

      Peter S. Alagona is an assistant professor of history and environmental studies at UC Santa Barbara. He is interested in the history of land use, natural resource management, environmental politics, and ecological science in California and the West. His research projects include using the NRS as a case study to explore the role of biological field stations in modern American environmental history.

      During the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, scientists in California lacked the extensive libraries, museum collections, and laboratory facilities typical of older and wealthier academic institutions in Europe and the American Northeast. What they did have was a...


      (pp. 32-36)

      Rugged and steep, the Heath and Marjorie Angelo Coast Range Reserve lies within the vast conifer forest that once extended across much of the northwestern United States. Buffered by large tracts of federally owned land, the reserve protects approximately three miles of the South Fork Eel River and the watersheds of three of its tributaries. Angelo’s boundaries embrace a mosaic of habitats once found throughout the region, including one of the largest tracts of old-growth Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesiivar.menziesii) remaining in California. Terraces adjacent to the stream channels form the only level ground in a landscape of narrow valleys...

      (pp. 37-41)

      Perched at the western edge of the North American continent, along the rugged north-central coast of California, Bodega Marine Reserve is a dramatic meeting place of land and sea. Its boundaries extend from the mudflats of Bodega Harbor inland through salt marsh, over sand dunes, through coastal prairie and coastal scrub, and down rocky cliffs to the waves of the Pacific Ocean. One of the richest marine upwelling regions along the Pacific Coast lies directly offshore, while the San Andreas Fault Zone runs through the reserve itself. These natural features, plus the facilities of Bodega Marine Laboratory, make the reserve...

      (pp. 42-45)

      Located in the headwaters of the North Fork of the American River, Chickering American River Reserve is the only NRS site on the windward western slopes of the Sierra Nevada. The thin soils of this remote, high-elevation region support an impressive variety of mountain habitats. Coniferous forests, aspen groves, subalpine meadows, montane chaparral, alpine lake wetland margins, and rock-strewn fell-fields can all be found within its borders. Several springs with waters enriched in calcium bicarbonate and other minerals bubble up across the property.

      Rich in flora and fauna, Chickering Reserve harbors at least 1,000 plant species. It also lies within...

      (pp. 46-49)

      Immense ocean waves, sculpted sandstone, and fog-shrouded forests imbue the Mendocino coast with a wild and timeless feel. Yet it is the presence of a less obvious feature—a series of five wave-cut marine terraces rising from the water’s edge—that makes this landscape a natural curiosity. These sequentially exposed coastal terraces can be described as a veritable museum of rare soil types. The Hans Jenny Pygmy Forest Reserve supports a forest of Lilliputian trees atop the oldest and highest of these coastal terraces.

      The earliest human inhabitants of the Mendocino area were the Northern Pomo. These Native Americans are...

      (pp. 50-54)

      In the baking heat of a Central Valley summer, the expansive fields of Jepson Prairie Reserve resemble ordinary meadows. But in spring, this bunchgrass prairie bursts into rainbow carpets of wildflowers. Pools of rainwater dot the landscape, concealing rare salamanders and tiny fairy shrimp. Once widespread throughout the region, few such vernal wetlands and their assemblages of native species remain.

      The most prominent natural features of the reserve are its vernal pools and ponds, seasonal bodies of water that form in the rainy season atop an impermeable subsurface layer of clay. When it rains, the clay swells and prevents water...

      (pp. 55-59)

      Gold holds a central place in the identity of California. The gold rush of 1849 propelled a formerly sleepy backwater into a mecca for global commerce. And each spring, poppies (Eschscholzia caespitosa, E. californica) cover hills with molten-gold blooms. Powerful geologic forces brought both gold and poppies to the open grasslands and oak-studded hills east of Clear Lake. The site’s precious metals have been mined away, but its exotic geology and endemic plant communities remain, attracting botanists, earth scientists, and other researchers to Donald and Sylvia McLaughlin Natural Reserve.

      In 1978, the Homestake Mining Company discovered gold at what is...

      (pp. 60-64)

      East of the vineyards of Napa Valley, tucked within the folds of the Inner Coast ranges, stretch the waters of one of California’s largest reservoirs, Lake Berryessa. The lake bustles with boats of all sizes during the long summer months. But a quieter remnant of this area’s original charms can be found along the waterway’s southern shore. Located on a small, rugged peninsula, the slopes of Quail Ridge Reserve are clad in native oak woodland, chaparral, and outstanding examples of native perennial grasslands.

      Quail Ridge’s geological history begins beneath the sea. Roughly 140 million years ago, the young Sierra Nevada...

      (pp. 65-69)

      Immediately east of the Sierra Nevada crest, within a glacier-carved basin, snow melts and collects to form the clear headwaters of Sagehen Creek. For eight miles, the stream winds past thick conifer forests, soggy fens, and open meadows, through a landscape teeming with trout, aquatic insects, and boreal forest mammals. Researchers have flocked here for over half a century to study the environment of the northern Sierra Nevada, encouraged by the warm cabins and convivial conversation at Sagehen Creek Field Station.

      Deep snows and long winters make the Sierra crest a challenging place to live. Though no permanent Native American...

      (pp. 70-73)

      Stebbins Cold Canyon Reserve is nestled in the Coast Ranges near the southeastern corner of Lake Berryessa. Formed around a tributary of Putah Creek, the rugged slopes and dense vegetation of this north-facing canyon evoke a wilder California from long ago. One of few sites in the NRS open to both academic research and public use, this corner of the Vaca Mountains is an attractive site for day hikes and a prime location to study natural history.

      Native Americans have lived in this region for thousands of years. As far back as 2,000 years before the present, the Southern Patwin...


      (pp. 76-81)

      Few places on this earth today belong solely to the animals. Yet the most populous state in the nation still harbors a throwback to those wilder times. Año Nuevo Island is located just an hour’s drive south of bustling San Francisco. This wave-tossed scrap of dry land is prime real estate for seals, sea lions, and seabirds of many kinds. A half mile from shore, these marine species can rest and raise their young safe from mainland predators and human development. And thanks to a partnership between the University of California and the California Department of Parks and Recreation, the...

      (pp. 82-86)

      Next door to metropolitan San Jose, midway up the western face of Mount Hamilton, stretches an iconic California landscape. Groves of majestic valley and blue oaks spread their branches over grasslands brightened by spring wildflowers and split by rocky arroyos. Spectacular views of southern San Francisco Bay and the Santa Cruz Mountains can be seen across the Santa Clara Valley. Further up the mountain cluster the white domes of the University of California’s Lick Observatory, which offer breathtaking views of the night sky. These lands are part of Blue Oak Ranch Reserve, one of the newest reserves within the NRS....

      (pp. 87-91)

      To a bird winging over the southern California coast, Carpinteria Salt Marsh is an oasis encircled by roads, greenhouses, warehouses, and homes. Its maze of tidal channels, located some 12 miles east of Santa Barbara, wind through a gray-green expanse of low-slung pickleweed. In a region of California where 93 percent of the estuarine wetlands have been degraded or filled, the reserve and surrounding protected lands provide valuable habitat to shorebirds, rare plants, and an unusual mix of northern and southern coastal species.

      Carpinteria Salt Marsh was once part of the much larger El Estero wetland that is now largely...

      (pp. 92-96)

      Coal Oil Point Natural Reserve is one of the best and last examples of a southern California coastal strand ecosystem where sand dunes, wave-tossed beaches, and muddy wetlands all converge. Devereux Slough is the dynamic center of the reserve. Winter rains flood this estuarine wetland, which dries by late summer into salt flats and hypersaline ponds. These seasonal habitat changes attract thousands of migratory birds throughout the year, inspiring the National Audubon Society to designate it an Important Bird Area. An innovative public outreach program developed at the reserve enables surfers and sunbathers to share the beach with a colony...

      (pp. 97-100)

      Fort Ord Natural Reserve is tucked behind coastal sand dunes at the southeastern edge of Monterey Bay, merely a mile from the Pacific shore. Its sandy soils support stands of live oak woodlands and maritime chaparral, a unique vegetation type restricted to the foggy landscapes along California’s coast. A history of military ownership has largely preserved this unique coastal ecosystem from development. With the closure of the military base and the creation of a UC Natural Reserve on the site, scientists have been able to study a nearly intact community of rare plants found almost nowhere else in the world....

      (pp. 101-105)

      Hastings Natural History Reservation unfolds across the foothills of central California’s Santa Lucia Mountains. It is located midway between the coast and the San Joaquin Valley, on the south-facing slopes of Carmel Valley. The reserve encompasses three narrow valleys, each containing oak-studded slopes, perennial grassland meadows, and dense stands of chaparral.

      In many ways, Hastings embodies the platonic ideal of an NRS reserve. It is far enough from urban asphalt and pollution to have a healthy ecosystem, yet near enough to major cities for easy visitor access. A laboratory, overnight accommodations, extensive acreage, and an endowment to support ongoing research...

      (pp. 106-112)

      California’s steepest coastal range, the Santa Lucia Mountains, plunges directly into the ocean at Big Sur. Along this spectacular coast, Landels-Hill Big Creek Reserve across steep canyons and forested ridgelines an hour’s drive south of Monterey. Composed of largely undisturbed wilderness, this landscape experiences extreme climatic differences between ridgetop and shoreline. Kelp forests and rocky reefs hug the coast, while submarine canyons drop one-third of a mile deep directly offshore. The result is a dramatically compressed series of habitats bordered by massive redwoods above and tidepools below.

      The natural abundance at Big Creek attracted native Esselen and Salinan people to...

      (pp. 113-117)

      Immediately south of the seaside community of Cambria, the Kenneth S. Norris Rancho Marino Reserve straddles the biogeographic boundary between northern and southern California. The reserve protects two miles of rocky shoreline, 500 acres of coastal prairie, and native forests of Monterey pine (Pinus radiata) and coast live oak (Quercus agrifolia). Privately owned and funded, this reserve offers a taste of California at its best: breathtaking vistas of the windswept coast, abundant and diverse marine life, and rocky shorelines.

      Rancho Marino lies within the San Andreas Fault Zone, wedged between the inland Cambria and the offshore San Gregorio-Hosgri faults. The...

      (pp. 118-124)

      California’s eight Channel Islands lie in a sweeping arc along the state’s south coast between San Diego and Point Conception. Considered the Galápagos Islands of the north, these islands are evolutionary and ecological laboratories varying in size, complexity, and degree of isolation. The largest of these is Santa Cruz Island. Located 26 miles south of the city of Santa Barbara across the Santa Barbara Channel, Santa Cruz is separated from neighboring Santa Rosa and Anacapa islands by five to seven miles of open water.

      The Channel Islands are the result of 30 million years of compression, faulting, and uplift interactions...

      (pp. 125-130)

      At the end of a country road in northern Santa Barbara County, past rolling vineyards, upscale horse stables, and lavender farms, lies the expansive former ranch that is now Sedgwick Reserve. Sedgwick, named for the donor family that traces its lineage back to the Massachusetts Bay Colony and the American Revolution, graces the western escarpment of the San Rafael Mountains in the Santa Ynez Valley. It is among the largest and most diverse protected sites within the NRS, rich in both natural and cultural resources.

      Sedgwick Reserve lies midway between what were once the two largest Chumash villages in the...

      (pp. 131-135)

      John Muir’s descriptions of Yosemite have moved generations to appreciate the spirit of wilderness and the importance of nature conservation. Muir’s work to familiarize the public with the glories of the High Sierra continues today within the spectacular national park he helped to preserve. Located in the historic village of Wawona, Yosemite Field Station serves as both a vibrant intellectual center and a gateway that supports field research in the park and beyond.

      As an example of the natural marvels the Sierra Nevada has to offer, Yosemite National Park is unrivaled. Its sheer-walled valley and granite peaks were carved by...

      (pp. 136-140)

      Each spring, streams born in the peaks of the Sierra Nevada tumble east to water the Great Basin. One of those streams, Convict Creek, emerges from the high mountains south of the resort town of Mammoth Lakes to fill and drain eleven alpine lakes. Swollen by melting winter snows, it winds around the base of jagged Mount Morrison to enter the grounds of the Sierra Nevada Aquatic Research Laboratory. Originally conceived as a site for federal fisheries research, the laboratory has since expanded into a world-class center for stream ecosystem studies and a center for environmental research and teaching in...

      (pp. 141-145)

      The spine of the Sierra Nevada marks the boundary between two worlds. To the west lie craggy peaks and deep snows; to the east stretches a vast desert and slumbering volcanic caldera. An occasional breach in these mountains admits storms from the Pacific Ocean that powder the ski slopes of Mammoth Mountain. A glacier-carved basin between the mountain and the town of Mammoth Lakes encompasses the small jewel of Valentine Camp. Bordered by slopes of chaparral, sagebrush, and conifers, the reserve follows Mammoth Creek as it cuts down through a small canyon. Plunging over a waterfall, the creek then meanders...

      (pp. 146-150)

      Midway along the angled eastern edge of California, the spare slopes of the White Mountains rise high above the deserts of the Great Basin. Though little known among many Californians, this lofty range is a place best described in superlatives. The west face of the mountains climbs 10,000 feet in seven brief miles. The oldest trees on earth endure the passage of eons rooted to these wind-scoured slopes. At the summit of White Mountain itself, often lashed by hurricane-force winds, stands the highest permanent research station in the lower 48 states. The extreme environment and unspoiled landscapes of these mountains...

      (pp. 151-155)

      Younger Lagoon Reserve protects one of the few remaining, relatively undisturbed wetlands along the central California coast. Located along a marine terrace on the northern edge of the town of Santa Cruz, the reserve supports a surprising array of coastal habitats. Its brackish water lagoon dead-ends into sand dunes and a small beach. A sea stack resembling the tower of a submarine rises just offshore, crowned by coastal bluff flora. The oceanside cliffs are riddled with sea caves, while the tidepools below teem with algae, crabs, and fish. Seasonal ponds and a broad coastal prairie, reclaimed from decades of brussels...


      (pp. 158-160)

      Merely a mile from the UC Riverside campus, Box Springs Reserve lies on a rocky slope along the western crest of Box Springs Mountain. Located atop the highest peak in the Box Springs Mountains, a small range in Riverside County, this boulder-strewn reserve marks a transitional zone between coastal sage scrub and chamise chaparral. A cold spring on adjacent land gives rise to freshwater seeps and an intermittent stream. Decades of urban sprawl have deposited suburban neighborhoods at the foot of the reserve, presenting management challenges common to many protected areas at the urban-wildland interface.

      Box Springs Reserve was among...

      (pp. 161-166)

      The Coachella Valley is known to most visitors as a winter playground of swimming pools and palm trees. The desert iguanas and roadrunners that once frequented this sandy floodplain have been displaced by tile-roofed tract houses and golf greens. But the hills that fringe the valley’s southern edge still harbor great expanses of near-virgin desert. Studded with century-old barrel cacti and frequented by bighorn sheep, Boyd Deep Canyon Desert Research Center offers a protected venue for field science in an increasingly populated region.

      The landscape of Deep Canyon links the broad desert floodplain of the Coachella Valley to the peaks...

      (pp. 167-170)

      Burns Piñon Ridge Reserve is tucked amid the hills and mesas along the western edge of the Mojave Desert. Its boulder-strewn landscape forms a transition zone between the high-elevation ecosystems of the San Bernardino Mountains and those of the lower, hotter Mojave Desert. Here, the outstretched limbs of Joshua trees (Yucca brevifolia) give way to piñons (Pinus monophylla) and California junipers (Juniperus californica). A wetland seep adds further diversity to the reserve’s habitats. The reserve draws not only university-level field courses and scientific researchers but also nature writing and poetry classes seeking inspiration and quietude.

      The reserve was once the...

      (pp. 171-175)

      Agua Hedionda Creek cuts through the western foothills of San Diego County, a twisting line of deep green in a seasonally parched landscape. Five miles from the Pacific Ocean, it cuts through a canyon thick with blooming chaparral. Stands of leafy sycamores (Platanus racemosa) and oaks (Quercusspp.) shade the canyon floor, which opens to the east onto expansive grassland meadows. Known as Dawson Los Monos Canyon Reserve, this swath of open space became one of the seven founding sites of the NRS in 1965. Since then, the reserve has been surrounded by the rapidly expanding cities of Carlsbad and...

      (pp. 176-179)

      Elliott Chaparral Reserve occupies a narrow ridge and adjacent slopes 10 miles east of UC San Diego. From this ridge, headwaters flow both north and south down seasonally dry arroyos into two distinct major watersheds. The reserve supports an exceptional mixture of natural coastal and desert habitats. Together with its neighbors, the University of California Elliott Field Station and a military air station, the reserve encompasses a broad expanse of contiguous, largely undeveloped land within rapidly urbanizing San Diego.

      Lands that make up Elliott Chaparral Reserve once belonged to Mission San Diego de Alcalá. Mission property stretched 20 miles north...

      (pp. 180-183)

      Located in the Santa Margarita River watershed near the town of Temecula, Emerson Oaks Reserve is clothed in a dense canopy of live oaks, coastal sage scrub, and chaparral. Its position at the convergence of four major climatic zones—mountain, desert, coastal, and interior valley—generates a diverse mix of plant and animal life. Emerson Oaks is the only NRS reserve in southern California devoted to preserving the region’s magnificent low-elevation oak woodlands, providing scientists with opportunities to study an ecosystem disappearing from many parts of the state.

      The presence of humans in the Santa Margarita watershed dates back at...

      (pp. 184-190)

      The San Jacinto Mountains cast a long shadow over the irrigated playground of the Coachella Valley. Its highest point, San Jacinto Peak, angles sharply upward from sea level to a summit 10,831 feet high. A journey up the mountain moves through the blistering Colorado Desert up to alpine forest and palm oases and into fragrant chaparral. Midway up the mountain’s western slopes lies the James San Jacinto Mountains Reserve. Nestled into an alluvial bench amid federally protected Hall Canyon, the reserve is a base for exploring the biological variety and changing moods of this northernmost branch of California’s Peninsular Ranges....

      (pp. 191-195)

      The shorelines and waterways of San Diego’s Mission Bay have been altered for more than 200 years to meet the needs of local residents. From canals dug in the eighteenth century to the engineered islands of Mission Bay Park, the estuary has experienced continuous change. The salt marshes that once fringed 2,000 acres of the bay have been reduced to a 30-acre remnant along the northern edge of the bay. The majority of this diminished wetland is protected by Kendall-Frost Mission Bay Marsh Reserve; the rest is protected by the city of San Diego’s Northern Wildlife Preserve. Together these areas...

      (pp. 196-200)

      Weathered boulders, indigenous rock art panels, and the rust-brown hue of buckwheat define Motte Rimrock Reserve. Perched on a broad plateau of exposed granite not far from the city of Perris in western Riverside County, the reserve lies midway between two earthquake faults. Shaking generated by these faults is attenuated by the rigidity of the granite, preserving a number of impressively balanced boulders at Motte.

      The length of human habitation at the Motte Rimrock Reserve and its environs remains uncertain, but clear evidence exists of occupation from the late prehistoric period beginning 800 to 1,300 years before the present. Both...

      (pp. 201-206)

      San Joaquin Marsh Reserve is among the last remnants of an extensive wetland mosaic that once fringed California’s Orange County coast. Today, the marsh is embedded in a tapestry of anthropogenic disturbance. Dams, modified drainages, flood control measures, and urban development have altered wetland functions to a tremendous degree. Yet the marsh’s position adjacent to UC Irvine has made the reserve a locus for environmental learning and research. Years of hard work by marsh stewards and students have transformed a formerly degraded site into an important refuge for locally embattled wildlife.

      Around 4,000 years ago, when sea levels were higher,...

      (pp. 207-212)

      Scripps Coastal Reserve protects a precipitous slice of San Diego shoreline. Here, a coastal mesa topped by a grassy knoll towers 30 stories above the sea. At mesa’s edge, the bluffs plummet down to an open beach. Rollers break across a sandy coastal plain and rocky intertidal zone. Further offshore, submarine Scripps Canyon provides a conduit between the shallow continental shelf and deeper waters offshore. Located at the doorstep of UC San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography, reserve lands are among the longest-studied coastal habitats in California.

      Humans have utilized the abundant resources of this coast for thousands of years....

      (pp. 213-217)

      Many have written about the ineluctable draw of American deserts, but none have portrayed it with the vividness of Edward Abbey. Author and conservationist, environmental hero and anarchic iconoclast, Abbey (1968) wrote “what draws us into the desert is the search for something intimate in the remote.” For those who wish to conduct that search in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, the NRS’s Steele/Burnand Anza-Borrego Desert Research Center provides an ideal staging ground. California’s largest park at approximately 615,000 acres, Anza-Borrego offers 500 miles of dirt roads, 12 wilderness areas, and more than 100 miles of trails.

      In 2008, the California...

      (pp. 218-222)

      In the midst of the megalopolis of Los Angeles, between the San Fernando Valley to the north and the Los Angeles Basin to the south, rise the green and wild Santa Monica Mountains. An interposition of nature within the state’s most populous city, the mountains shelter oak-studded canyons juxtaposed with narrow beaches and chaparral-clad slopes overlooking radiant Pacific sunsets. More than 20 parks and protected areas have been designated within this mountain range, including Stunt Ranch Santa Mountain Mountains Reserve. Located within Cold Creek Canyon, the most pristine and biologically diverse watershed in the Santa Monica Mountains, this NRS reserve...

      (pp. 223-227)

      The eastern Mojave Desert is one of North America’s most pristine natural landscapes. Its vast open spaces are punctuated by mountain sky islands, sprawling lava flows, booming sand dunes, and saline playas. Broad expanses of creosote bush can be found on alluvial bajadas. This mesmerizing country is home to Sweeney Granite Mountains Desert Research Center, a hub of scientific inquiry and a gateway to the 30 million acres of the greater Mojave Desert.

      The reserve lies on the eastern slopes of one of the largest mountain groups in the region. Piñon pine (Pinus monophylla) and Utah juniper (Juniperus osteosperma) cover...

    (pp. 228-236)

    The UC Natural Reserve System (NRS) was born of a great idea that took root and blossomed throughout California by the close of the twentieth century. In the twenty-first century, this same great idea has expanded far beyond state borders. The NRS is participating in an increasing number of innovative partnerships created to protect world biodiversity and to understand and manage global climate change. In the process, the NRS operates not only as a collection of related, interlocking parts but also as a cohesive whole whose synergy is far greater than the sum of its parts.

    The world has become...

    (pp. 237-244)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 245-267)