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Lost Worlds

Lost Worlds: Adventures in the Tropical Rainforest

Bruce M. Beehler
Illustrations by John Anderton
Copyright Date: 2008
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    Lost Worlds
    Book Description:

    Perhaps it is not possible to experience all the mysterious sounds, the unfamiliar smells, and the spectacular sights of a tropical rainforest without ever visiting one. But this exhilarating and honest book comes wondrously close to taking the reader on such a journey. Bruce M. Beehler, a widely traveled expert on birds and tropical ecology, recounts fascinating details from twelve field trips he has taken to the tropics over the past three decades. As a researcher, he brings to life the exotic rainforests and the people who inhabit them; as a conservationist, he makes a plea for better ways of managing rainforests-"a resource that the world cannot do without."

    Drawing on his experiences in Papua New Guinea, India, Madagascar, Indonesia, the Philippines, Panama, and the Ivory Coast, Beehler describes the surprises-both pleasant and unpleasant-of doing science and conservation in the field. He explains the role that rainforests play in the lives of indigenous peoples and the crucial importance of understanding local cultures, customs, and politics. The author concludes with simple but tough solutions for maintaining rainforest health, expressing fervent hope that his great-grandchildren and others may one day also hear the rainforest whisper its secrets.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-14952-4
    Subjects: Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, Zoology, Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-3)

    It was August 2005. Andrew, my thirteen-year-old son, and I were crammed into an overcrowded Bell 206 helicopter that was maneuvering its way through the precipitous gorge country of central Enga Province in Papua New Guinea. Rain beat against the broad, bubble-like Plexiglas windscreen, and cloud and mist were lowering onto the ridge tops. Just below us was the churning torrent of the angry Lagaip River, now the color of wet concrete. Cliffs of raw siltstone rose on our left, and regenerating forest carpeted the ravine to our right. We could see no sign of civilization or settlement—not even...

  5. CHAPTER ONE In the Rainforest
    (pp. 4-29)

    NEW GUINEA—LARGER THAN MADAGASCAR or Borneo—is amazing for its plant life (more than fifteen thousand species), its bird life (more than seven hundred species), and its human diversity (more than a thousand distinct language groups inhabit this great rugged island). New Guinea has expanses of lowland jungle and a great Andes-like mountain chain that rises in places to more than 15,000 feet. (Throughout this book, the name New Guinea is applied as a nonpolitical, geographic term, to indicate the world’s second largest island. By contrast, Papua New Guinea, or PNG, is the island nation that comprises the eastern...

  6. CHAPTER TWO In the Zone and on the Plantation
    (pp. 30-53)

    AFTER FIFTEEN MONTHS IN PAPUA NEW GUINEA, I returned to the United States in July 1976 to begin graduate studies in ecology at Princeton University. In my second year I took a tropical field ecology course, held in Panama during January 1978. It was taught by John Terborgh, my research supervisor, who expected all his graduate students to participate. But this was no hardship. I was anxious to get my first taste of a neotropical rainforest. In Panama one awakens before dawn to the roar of the Black Howler Monkey, and in some ways the diverse and colorful jungle birds...

  7. CHAPTER THREE On the Trail of Ripley and Ali
    (pp. 54-83)

    BY LATE 1981 I HAD TAKEN A JOB at the Smithsonian Institution, working as S. Dillon Ripley’s scientific assistant, based in his research laboratory in the Museum of Natural History. Ripley was an ornithologist famed for his work on the birds of India and the Far East. For twenty years he ran the Smithsonian, making it one of the world’s great research institutions.

    I initially linked up with Ripley by chance. In late 1975 I was at the Wau Ecology Institute in the hills of central Papua New Guinea. One evening I was working late in the office. Looking through...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR Wallace’s Promised Land
    (pp. 84-104)

    ALFRED RUSSEL WALLACE, who with Charles Darwin first discerned that life on earth is the product of natural selection and the evolutionary process, made these remarkable deductions during his long sojourn in the Malay Archipelago in the 1850s. A high point of this world-changing natural-history trek was Wallace’s visit to westernmost New Guinea—for him the mystical land of the bird of paradise. Even today, Wallace’s spare and clear-sighted field accounts are good reading. He was undoubtedly one of the world’s great field naturalists. Every naturalist who ventures to the western side of New Guinea follows in Wallace’s footsteps.


  9. CHAPTER FIVE Biodiversity and Intrigue across the Inner Line
    (pp. 105-127)

    INDIA CONSISTS OF A LARGE triangular breakaway section of the ancient supercontinent of Gondwana, now sutured onto Asia by the phenomenon of plate tectonics. The glue holding India to Asia is the mighty Himalayan chain, the zone where proto-India, after breaking from Madagascar and Africa, collided with Asia about 45 million years ago. For biologists and zoogeographers, these areas of contact between ancient land masses are the most fascinating of places—biotically rich, complex, and centers of biological evolution. These areas of vast mountain-building (the Himalayas, the Andes, the New Guinean central mountain chain) are the earth’s great boidiversity generators....

  10. CHAPTER SIX Forest Gardens
    (pp. 128-154)

    IN 1999 I WAS WORKING AT Counterpart International, in downtown Washington. Counterpart evolved out of a Pacific network of NGOs and focused on improving the livelihood of communities, especially rural communities. The environment division in this nongovernmental organization was implementing three experimental programs: an urban environmental remediation initiative in the former Soviet Union; an experimental agroforestry system calledForest Gardensthat was based on the analog forestry system developed in Sri Lanka by Ranil Senanayake; and a coral reef restoration methodology called Coral Gardens, a brainchild of Austin Bowden-Kerby. Because of the substantial prior work of Dr. Senanayake, theForest...

  11. CHAPTER SEVEN Local People Really Do Count
    (pp. 155-180)

    IN 1982 I HONEYMOONED WITH MY wife, Carol, along the Sii River in the Lakekamu Basin of Papua New Guinea. I was there to survey birds of paradise. My bride was there to see, first hand, what her new husband did for a living. The basin is a large expanse of lowland forest in the center of this western Pacific nation, physically protected from imminent exploitation by a ring of surrounding hills and mountains as well as some rather imposing rivers and swamplands.

    Carol’s grandmother, not surprisingly, was doubtful that our brand new marriage would survive a honeymoon trip to...

  12. CHAPTER EIGHT Pitiful Scraps of Forest
    (pp. 181-198)

    WHILE WORKING AT COUNTER PART International, I spent a fair amount of time on the road examining rural agricultural systems, and I found merit in the polyculture aspect ofForest Gardens(Chapter 6), though I did not think it could take the place of monocultures of certain staple crops (maize, wheat, rice, for instance). Nonetheless, in countries such as Madagascar, Sri Lanka, and Philippines, too much hilly upland forest was being devegetated in order to plant row crops for cash. Soil erosion was a big problem, as was scarcity of fuelwood, poor home nutrition, and drinking water contamination from fertilizers...

  13. CHAPTER NINE Lemurs, Vangas, Chameleons, and Poverty
    (pp. 199-220)

    MY JOB AT COUNTER PART International sent me to far-flung lands. In 1998 the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) announced an environmental funding initiative in Madagascar. The “request for proposals” was a call for environmental organizations to submit funding proposals to do conservation work in Madagascar. This initiative caught the eye of Counterpart’s leadership as a possible new source of institutional business. I was nominated to scope out environmental project opportunities in Madagascar. I booked my airline tickets, bought aLonely Planetguide, a bird guide, and chatted with my friends at Conservation International about where to go and...

  14. CHAPTER TEN The Lost World
    (pp. 221-248)

    HAVE YOU EVER WONDERED WHERE the most remote place on earth is? It is the Foja Mountain range in western New Guinea. As mentioned in the Introduction, my 2005 field trip to this isolated range was a revelation—no villages, no litter, no logged-over or gardened areas, no roads, no walking tracks, no hunting, not even any sounds of civilization except for a once-a-week passenger jet flying high overhead.

    The Foja range was the place that helped me to better understand the links between plate tectonics, mountain building, and the evolution of new species. Finding the Foja Mountains to be...

  15. Epilogue
    (pp. 249-252)

    My field trip to the Upper Watut of Papua New Guinea taught me that local people have much to teach the Western world about the rainforest and how it works. Moreover, what I learned in the Lakekamu Basin was that local people need to remain the stewards of their forests. They may require some help from the outside, but they must remain the leaders of any process that promotes conservation and sustainable development.

    My trip to Panama taught me the obvious: that the Neotropics are the heartland of the earth’s greatest concentration of biodiversity. Even giant New Guinea cannot compete...

  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 253-254)
  17. Index
    (pp. 255-258)