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First, a horse in Brisbane falls ill: fever, swelling, bloody froth. Then thirteen others perish. The foreman at the stables becomes ill and the trainer dies. What is going on?
It takes months to establish that the cause is a virus which has travelled from a tree-dwelling bat to horse, and from horse to man. The bats had lived undisturbed for centuries in Queensland’s eucalyptus forests. Now the forests are being cut down and the colonies of bats are roosting elsewhere…
Spillover tells the story of such diseases. As globalization spreads and as we destroy the ancient ecosystems, we encounter strange and dangerous infections that originate in animals but that can be transmitted to humans. Diseases that were contained are being set free and the results are potentially catastrophic.
In a journey that takes him from southern China to the Congo, from Cameroon to Kinshasa, David Quammen tracks these infections to their source and asks what we can do to prevent some new pandemic spreading across the face of the earth.
Thirty years ago, two young biologists named Robert MacArthur and Edward O. Wilson triggered a far-reaching scientific revolution. In a book titled The Theory of Island Biogeography, they presented a new view of a little-understood matter: the geographical patterns in which animal and plant species occur. Why do marsupials exist in Australia and South America, but not in Africa? Why do tigers exist in Asia, but not in New Guinea?
Influenced by MacArthur and Wilson’s book, an entire generation of ecologists has recognized that island biogeography—the study of the distribution of species on islands and islandlike patches of landscape—yields important insights into the origin and extinction of species everywhere. The new mode of thought focuses particularly on a single question: Why have island ecosystems always suffered such high rates of extinction? In our own age, with all the world’s landscapes, from Tasmania to the Amazon…[more]