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The Nature of Natural History

The Nature of Natural History

With a new Preface by HENRY S. HORN
Copyright Date: 1990
Pages: 336
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  • Book Info
    The Nature of Natural History
    Book Description:

    This classic work is an exploration of what natural history is, and a sustained effort to see how it relates to other areas of biology. Marston Bates did not attempt to overwhelm his audience with facts or overinterpret those he did use, and, perhaps for this reason, The Nature of Natural History is a timeless work. The author's genuine interest in the tropics has a very current feeling, and the first ten or fifteen chapters of the work have a style that is parallel to that of David Attenborough's verbal presentations of nature. From the book: "I have already made several remarks about the connection between parasitism and degeneracy. I suspect this is a matter of point of view. We are predatory animals ourselves, and consequently admire the characteristics of predationagility, speed, cunning, self-reliance. We feel a certain kinship with the lion, and regard the liver fluke with horror. If a sheep were given the choice, though, it might prefer to be debilitated by liver flukes rather than killed by a lion."

    Originally published in 1990.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-6154-5
    Subjects: Biological Sciences

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface to the Princeton Science Library Edition
    (pp. ix-x)
    Henry S. Horn
  4. CHAPTER I The Science of Natural History
    (pp. 1-8)

    THERE is a temptation to start a book with some grand phrase, some broad statement that will lead the reader on into the details of the text. The movie people often use such a device, starting with the camera aimed at an immensity of sky and clouds, lowering it to make a sweep across a wide landscape of forests and fields until one village is picked out, one street, one house. Within the house, the focus finally comes to rest on Dorothy, sitting quietly at her spinning wheel, her outward calm a cover for some seething turmoil of emotions. Only...

  5. CHAPTER II The Naming of Organisms
    (pp. 9-22)

    CHARLES ELTON has remarked that there is little use in making observations on an animal unless you know its name. The first step in a survey of natural history, then, should be the acquisition of some familiarity with the system of names and the system of classification, with the word equipment used by naturalists.

    Many animals and plants have vernacular names that everyone learns in childhood, or that form parts of special vocabularies such as those of farmers, woodsmen or hunters. It is surprising, though, how quickly we exhaust this supply of names. It works well enough for large mammals...

  6. CHAPTER III The Catalogue of Nature
    (pp. 23-41)

    IT is usually estimated that about a million species of organisms have been described and given names. No one can make more than a rough guess as to how much progress this represents toward the goal of getting all of the kinds of organisms named. In a few groups, like the birds, almost all of the very distinct kinds have surely been found and catalogued. In other groups, like some of the smaller and less conspicuous insects, only a small percentage of existing kinds have been given names. Charles Brues has estimated that there may be ten million species of...

  7. CHAPTER IV The History of Organisms
    (pp. 42-55)

    THE Museum of Comparative Zoology, at Harvard, was a fine building for its day; but now it is perhaps best characterized as a firetrap. It houses the accumulated hoardings of many naturalists, an irreplaceable treasure of biological materials. Consequently every precaution is taken to be sure that its firetrap possibilities are not realized. Among other things, no one smokes in the building. Scientists smoke at least as much as other people, and the scientists at the M.C.Z., compelled by their habit, spend intervals on the museum steps all day long, even in the worst Massachusetts weather. This means that the...

  8. CHAPTER V Reproduction
    (pp. 56-71)

    THE fossil record, however imperfect, thus gives a clear outline of the slow development of life on this planet, from the now formless accumulations of carbon in the Pre-Cambrian rocks to the extraordinarily diverse types of organisms that populate the contemporary scene. As naturalists, we are concerned primarily with the events of this contemporary scene, which the geologist labels “Recent”, but to understand these events we must constantly refer back to the records of their historical development. Where the records are incomplete (as is usually the case) we are forced to fill in the account with guesses, taking care to...

  9. CHAPTER VI The Development of the Individual
    (pp. 72-89)

    EVERY child is fascinated by the problem of the caterpillar and the butterfly. But most of us, as we grow up, forget these things and become absorbed in matters of consequence. Scientists form one group of individuals in whom childish traits persist: for the adult scientist still wonders about the problem of the caterpillar and the butterfly. He has never grown out of that exasperating period of childhood characterized by the eternal, “why, mummy?”

    Perhaps creative genius is simply the persistence of childishness into adulthood in certain individuals: the persistence of curiosity to make scientists and philosophers; of wonder to...

  10. CHAPTER VII The Environment
    (pp. 90-105)

    NATURAL history is often considered to be more or less equivalent to the special science of ecology; and ecology, in turn, is generally defined as “the study of organisms in relation to their environment.” Environmental relations, then, form the essential core of natural history, which we have been approaching in a leisurely and roundabout way.

    These first chapters have been concerned mostly with background material. An explanation of the naming system of organisms seemed advisable at the start. This led to a rough sketch of the major divisions of the classification of organisms, the filing system used for handling natural...

  11. CHAPTER VIII Biotic Communities
    (pp. 106-121)

    I HAVE been trying to think about an organism living alone, in isolation. It is not an easy condition to imagine, but perhaps the attempt will make a good start toward understanding the interdependence of organisms in communities.

    Animals are out. It is impossible to imagine any kind of animal living alone, because all animals need fairly complex carbon compounds as food, and they can only get these by eating plants, or by eating animals that in their turn have eaten plants. So we are limited to the plant kingdom in our search.

    The so-called “higher plants” are out too,...

  12. CHAPTER IX Partnership and Cooperation
    (pp. 122-136)

    SCIENTISTS and philosophers have long been impressed with the competitive, the antagonistic relations among organisms. These are more obvious, more striking than the cooperative relations, which result in the mutual dependence among the members of the biotic community described in the last chapter. The competitive aspects of communal relations have been phrased in easily remembered slogans like the “struggle for existence” and the “jungle law of tooth and claw.” The cooperative aspects of communal life seem to be less susceptible to apt and catchy phrasing.

    I wonder whether this is related to some general character of the thought process. We...

  13. CHAPTER X Parasitism
    (pp. 137-154)

    A PARASITE, in the broadest sense, is any organism that lives at the expense of another. Yet when we use the word, we usually have reference to a much more special sort of phenomenon, to an intimate association between two different kinds of organisms whereby one has come to depend completely on the other for sustenance. We think of a small organism living in or on the body of a large organism, usually causing more or less appreciable injury to the large organism (the host) which may be manifest as disease, but not necessarily causing the death of the host....

  14. CHAPTER XI The Behavior of Individuals
    (pp. 155-168)

    THE consideration of parasitism, predation, symbiosis and other intra-communal relations among organisms leads naturally to a consideration of the dynamics of population relations, to a review of the behavior of populations. But before taking up this subject, I think it would be well to insert a chapter on the behavior of individuals in which certain general topics useful in the understanding of population behavior can be dealt with.

    To separate off chapters on behavior in a book on natural history is a rather arbitrary procedure, since one might reasonably argue that all of natural history is concerned with behavior. The...

  15. CHAPTER XII The Behavior of Populations
    (pp. 169-186)

    AT first sight it seems a little odd to write of the behavior of populations. A population is unlikely to be dancing a waltz or climbing a tree or to be found making love to another population. Yet neither is a population a fixed, static thing. Any population grows, develops relations with other populations and with the physical environment: it may subdivide into new populations, or, in the course of time, become extinct.

    I don’t know whether there is any point in trying to define a word like population. I am using it here for the aggregate of individuals of...

  16. CHAPTER XIII Biological Geography
    (pp. 187-203)

    IN my first outline, this chapter was headed the “geography of populations”, as a sort of logical extension of the discussion of population behavior. I still like the sound of that title, but it would be misleading, because I want to discuss not only the geography of populations, but that of higher groups, of the abstract categories of the systematists, and to try to give a general sketch of the geographical implications of natural history.

    Naturalists have always been somewhat preoccupied with the distribution of animals and plants—with the geography of species and of the higher systematic categories—but...

  17. CHAPTER XIV Adaptations
    (pp. 204-221)

    TO adapt, Webster says, is “to make suitable; to fit; to adjust”. Adaptation in its biological sense, according to this same dictionary, is “modification of an animal or plant (or of its parts or organs) fitting it more perfectly for existence under the conditions of its environment”. It is thus a pretty broad word, both useful and much used in biology.

    All the way through this book I have been concerned with the relations of organisms to each other and to the environment, which involves adaptations of form, function and habit to the extent that one can wonder, what in...

  18. CHAPTER XV The Mechanism of Evolution
    (pp. 222-237)

    MOST books on evolution take up a lot of space with the review of the evidence that some process of evolution has taken place. There is no more question of this among contemporary scientists than there is of the relative movements of the planets within the solar system—once also a hotly disputed point. The situation is quite different, however, when we come to the problem of the mechanism of evolution, the problem of the nature of the process itself, and of the forces that govern its speed and direction. Here there is no universal agreement, only a collection of...

  19. CHAPTER XVI Natural History and Human Economy
    (pp. 238-251)

    THIS account of evolution completes the sketch of the subject matter of natural history. We have discussed the naming and cataloguing of organisms; their reproduction and development; their relations with the environment and their organization into populations and communities; and finally, their evolution, the explanation of the diversity of organic form and of its fitness or adaptation. I ended with an emphasis on ignorance, which is not a neat way to tie up a parcel of knowledge. But all biologists are more impressed by what we don’t know than they are by what we know, and such an emphasis is...

  20. CHAPTER XVII The Natural History of Naturalists
    (pp. 252-267)

    NATURALISTS are the causative organisms of natural history. One might, in fact, view natural history as a sort of secretion of naturalists—science as a secretion of scientists—and such a view makes clear the importance of studying naturalists (or scientists) in any attempt to gain an understanding of natural history (or science).

    It seems to me an odd trait of our culture that we are very interested in personalities in general, but very little interested in the personalities of scientists, even though we all recognize that the product of their activities, science, is exercising a controlling influence on our...

  21. CHAPTER XVIII Tactics, Strategy and the Goal
    (pp. 268-284)

    ALAN GREGG, the director for medical sciences of the Rockefeller Foundation, has made a distinction between tactics and strategy in medical research—a distinction that seems to me to have general application in science. “Strategy,” he said, “is the art of deciding when and on what one will engage his strength, and tactics is the skill, economy, promptitude, and grace with which one utilizes his strength to attain the ends chosen by strategy.”

    Which is a nice adaptation of a military distinction. Further analogies between science and war, however, must be handled with care. In war there is an explicit...

  22. Appendix I: The Literature of Natural History
    (pp. 285-290)
  23. References
    (pp. 291-298)
  24. Appendix II: The Recent Literature of Natural History
    (pp. 299-310)
  25. Index
    (pp. 311-321)