Book Review

The Forgotten Pollinators

by Stephen L. Buchmann and Gary Paul Nabhan, forward by Edward O. Wilson

Island Press/Shearwater Books, Washington, DC. 1996. 292 pages.
$27.50 Cloth, ISBN 1-55963-352-2; $16.95 paperback, ISBN 1-55963-353-0.
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Reviewed by Michael Zarky (9/2000)

While catching up on several books by one of my favorite authors in the field of ethnobotany, I discovered a product of his collaboration with an entomologist on the status and mystery of the wonderful world of flower pollinators. Because the Fruit Gardener has recently featured articles in about orchard mason bees, I thought to recommend this book to the readership, although it is not directly focused on cultivated fruit growing. Its subject is the myriad of life forms in the wild involved in pollinating plants and the highly complex interaction of life forms in natural and man-altered biosystems, and their possible evolution, past and future. Overarching the discussion is the specter of the increasing destruction of viable ecosystems.

The writing is captivating, and the tales of travel and scientific discovery are highly absorbing. In search of the details of pollinator/plant symbiosis, we travel worldwide--Florida, Sonoran desert, Australia, Staten Island, Malaysian rainforests, bat caves, the Galapagos, England. We glimpse multi-acre state-of-the-art glass houses where tomatoes are pollinated by resident bumble bees. We visit the last vestiges of traditional Mayan beekeeping. We witness honey gathered high in the tropical rainforest at secret locations. We explore deep into the dank caves of bat colonies. We follow scientific studies in Nabhan’s home range, the Sonoran desert.

Nothing is examined in isolation. Above all, we learn the tremendous symbiotic dependencies of plants and the animal species that pollinate them, and the fragility of one group when the other is diminished by habitat destruction or environmental poisoning.

Illustrations by Paul Mirocha aid in the understanding of some of the morphological considerations of successful pollination. A 15-page glossary helps clarify technical terms.

Anyone with a thirst for learning about the natural world should love this book, and I heartily recommend any of the other books by Mr. Nabhan as well.

Gary Nabhan is the director of Science at Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum and was a MacArthur Fellow. Stephen Buchmann is Research entomologist at Carl Hayden Bee Research Center, and adjunct professor at the University of Arizona.

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