Mountain Weather, Good Book on Appalachian Ecology

Over the weekend, we had some classic drizzly mountain weather, with the mists blowing and shifting around the hills. Now we’re back to freezing cold – about 22 on the deck this morning, with a stiff wind chill. It acts like it’s trying to be spring, but indications are it will bounce back and forth a few more times before it really comes.

I’ve recently finished a good book on Appalachian ecology, George Constantz’s Hollows, Peepers, and Highlanders: An Appalachian Mountain Ecology. I read the second edition, which seems to be significantly revised. Constantz is working in the sociobiology model, so some understanding of that is helpful, but the articles are brief, engaging, and very informative. I learned a lot from it, and recommend it to those who may be curious about our area and its ecology.

For those who haven’t followed recent trends in biology, sociobiology – which is associated with Edward O. Wilson – is the reigning paradigm in biology these days. It’s a logical extension of Darwinism. The basic tenet of the theory is that everything happens because critters are trying to have the maximum number of descendants. In other words, pass along their genes to as many offspring as possible. A corollary is that there’s no such thing as altruism. Many facts in the natural world tend to support this theory, like the fact that male lions kill the offspring of rival males if they have the opportunity. But there are some apparent counterexamples, and a lot of the work of normal science these days involves taking one of these apparent counterexamples and showing that it really isn’t. In other words, explaining them away, if you’re one of those folks who are skeptical of big theories that explain everything.

You don’t have to know much about this, or have much interest in it to appreciate the book, but I thought I’d mention it, because some of what’s going on in the book makes a whole lot more sense if you have a general appreciation of what the biologists thing they’re doing these days.

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