The best books on biodiversity

3 authors have picked their favorite books about biodiversity and why they recommend each book.

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E. O. Wilson

By Edward O. Wilson,

Book cover of E. O. Wilson: Biophilia, the Diversity of Life, Naturalist

I took a course from Ed Wilson when I was a Knight Science Journalism Fellow at MIT and Harvard. Each one of his classes was a revelation, as were his books. He won the Pulitzer twice for On Human Nature and The Ants. But I particularly enjoyed The Diversity of Life. It was engaging and so prophetic – a sequel, as someone once said, to Darwin’s Origin of the Species.


Who am I?

I've spent a good part of my life exploring the outdoor world for the national parks service, for books, newspapers, and magazines. Each trip down a river, across a lake, up a mountain, or through a desert or swampland reminds me, as Wallace Stegner once suggested, that wilderness is as much a state of mind as it is a complex set of ecosystems. Wilderness is the geography of hope. Without the hope that comes with the wilderness experience, we would be lost. In my explorations, I've come to appreciate how much we still do not know about the natural world and how much hope there is that we can get through the challenges that climate change brings.


I wrote...

Swamplands: Tundra Beavers, Quaking Bogs, and the Improbable World of Peat

By Edward Struzik,

Book cover of Swamplands: Tundra Beavers, Quaking Bogs, and the Improbable World of Peat

What is my book about?

Traveling globally, Edward Struzik travels with scientists and indigenous people, exploring the haunting past of the Great Dismal Swamp in Virginia, the exotic plant-rich tropical bogs in Hawaii, the remnants of an ancient peatland in the Mojave Desert, and places where polar bears, turtles, and rattlesnakes den in peat. What he learns along the way is that peatlands play an outsized role in regulating climate, filtering water, mitigating floods, and wildfire, and providing refuge for new and critically endangered species such as the Bornean orangutang and the Red-cockaded woodpecker.

The Swarm

By Frank Schatzing,

Book cover of The Swarm

From one day to another nature seems to have gone mad. Even more: The species on the Earth seem to have conspired against humanity—after being decimated and clobbered by us humans. Like a last-ditch counterattack to ensure survival.

I read this thriller while starting to write my book. And it was exciting—not only because Frank Schätzing—a German fiction author—is a master of suspense. But because what he describes is not so far away from what I describe in my nonfiction (!) book: The epic journey of species toward the poles and up the mountains—with all its consequences for the civilized world as well as our irrational handling of it. Schätzing's fictional story is based on a solid ground of facts. But there is another reason, why The Swarm does not seem too absurd: It´s because climate change is altering life on earth in a way that itself seems like a…


Who am I?

As a science journalist I have concentrated on the consequences of climate change. It´s the most frightening as fascinating experiment, we conduct with our planet. In 2018 I wrote a book on extreme weather together with climate scientist Freddy Otto from the University of Oxford (Angry Weather). After this I got immersed in a different climate consequence: How it is affecting biodiversity and with it the foundation of our societies. But what I also love is good storytelling. I quickly get bored with texts that have no dramaturgy or that don't give the reader any pleasure—unlike the fantastic and highly relevant books on this list.


I wrote...

Nowhere Left to Go: How Climate Change Is Driving Species to the Ends of the Earth

By Benjamin von Brackel,

Book cover of Nowhere Left to Go: How Climate Change Is Driving Species to the Ends of the Earth

What is my book about?

As humans accelerate global warming, animals and plants must flee to the margins: on scattered nature reserves, between major highways, or among urban sprawl. And when even these places become too hot and inhospitable, wildlife is left with only one path to survival: an often-formidable journey toward the poles as they race to find a new home in a warming world. Tropical zones lose their inhabitants, beavers settle in Alaska, and gigantic shoals of fish disappear—just to reappear along foreign coastlines.

Award-winning environmental journalist Benjamin von Brackel traces these awe-inspiring journeys and celebrates the remarkable resilience of species around the world. But the lengths these plants and animals must go to avoid extinction are as alarming as they are inspirational.

Brief Eulogies for Lost Animals

By Daniel Hudon,

Book cover of Brief Eulogies for Lost Animals

I happened to be at a conference of scientists trying to conserve endangered species when I first heard about Daniel Hudon’s book. It struck a chord. It is a beautiful little collection of one hundred eulogies for lost animal species. Some are brief—just a few lines long. Others are more expansive, taking in literature and reportage. But all are poignant reminders of the permanence of extinction. Hudon’s aim is simply to acknowledge that these species existed, to recognize them and make them better known. It is a beautiful and unique collection, stunning in the cumulative force of his poetic words. A perfect gift, Hudon’s tales are both tragic and inspirational. 


Who am I?

I am a tropical ecologist turned writer and editor focused on biodiversity, climate change, forests, and the people who depend on them. I did my doctoral research in rainforests in Borneo and Papua New Guinea and have since worked for media organizations and research institutes, and as a mentor to journalists around the world who report on environmental issues. Ecology taught me that everything is connected. Rainforests taught me that nature can leave a person awe-struck with its beauty, complexity, or sheer magnificence. I try to share my passion for these subjects through my writing.


I wrote...

Gods, Wasps and Stranglers: The Secret History and Redemptive Future of Fig Trees

By Mike Shanahan,

Book cover of Gods, Wasps and Stranglers: The Secret History and Redemptive Future of Fig Trees

What is my book about?

Gods, Wasps and Stranglers* will take you to rainforests, volcanoes, and ancient temples to discover the mind-blowing story of the strangler figs and their kin, which have shaped our world and our species in extraordinary ways. No other group of trees is more ecologically and culturally important. They sustain more species of wildlife than any other plants. They also fed our pre-human ancestors, influenced our evolution, enriched diverse cultures, and played key roles in the dawn of civilisation. Author Mike Shanahan weaves together the mythology, history, biology, and ecology of these fascinating trees, from their starring roles in every major religion to their potential to restore lost rainforests and conserve endangered species. 

*Published in the UK as Ladders to Heaven.

The New Wild

By Fred Pearce,

Book cover of The New Wild: Why Invasive Species Will Be Nature's Salvation

Fred Pearce, veteran editor of New Scientist, takes on an exploration of what invasive species really are. In doing so, he reveals that many of our engrained opinions regarding these 'exotics' is based on flawed ecology, ecological xenophobia, and ill-founded conservatism. Sure, some invasive species should be fought to save cherished native species from extinction, but Pearce shows us that this should never be the knee-jerk reaction to any immigrant species.


Who am I?

Menno Schilthuizen is a Dutch evolutionary biologist and ecologist with more than thirty years of research experience under his belt, feeling at home in tropical rainforests as well as in urban greenspaces. He writes in a humorous and accessible manner for the general public about the ways in which the world's ecosystems are shifting and evolving under an increasing human presence. He works and teaches at Naturalis Biodiversity Center in Leiden, the Netherlands.


I wrote...

Darwin Comes to Town: How the Urban Jungle Drives Evolution

By Menno Schilthuizen,

Book cover of Darwin Comes to Town: How the Urban Jungle Drives Evolution

What is my book about?

We are marching towards a future in which three-quarters of humans live in cities, and a large portion of the planet's landmass is urbanized. With much of the rest covered by human-shaped farms, pasture, and plantations, where can nature still go? To the cities -- is Menno Schilthuizen's answer in this remarkable book. And with more and more wildlife carving out new niches among humans, evolution takes a surprising turn. Urban animals evolve to become more cheeky and resourceful, city pigeons develop detox-plumage, and weeds growing from cracks in the pavement get a new type of seeds. City blackbirds are even on their way of becoming an entirely new species, which we could name Turdus urbanicus.

Menno Schilthuizen shows us that evolution in cities can happen far more rapidly, and strangely, than Darwin had dared dream.

Feral

By George Monbiot,

Book cover of Feral: Rewilding the Land, the Sea, and Human Life

This book made me look at our countryside in a new way, and question our blind acceptance of the status quo. This is a fiercely critical look at our impoverished, tamed, often boring landscape, and argues for bringing back nature. Why can’t we have wolves, lynx, and bears roaming free once again in our countryside? George presents a clear vision for a wilder future.


Who am I?

I have loved insects and other wildlife for all of my life. I am now a professor of Biology at the University of Sussex, UK, specializing in bee ecology. I have published more than 400 scientific articles on the ecology and conservation of bumblebees and other insects, plus seven books, including the Sunday Times bestsellers A Sting in the Tale (2013), The Garden Jungle (2019), and Silent Earth (2021). They’ve been translated into 20 languages and sold over half a million copies. I also founded the Bumblebee Conservation Trust in 2006, a charity that has grown to 12,000 members. 


I wrote...

The Garden Jungle

By Dave Goulson,

Book cover of The Garden Jungle

What is my book about?

The Garden Jungle is a celebration of the wildlife that lives right under our noses, in our gardens and parks, between the gaps in the pavement, and in the soil beneath our feet. Dave Goulson gives us an insight into the fascinating and sometimes weird lives of these creatures, taking us burrowing into the compost heap, digging under the lawn, and diving into the garden pond. He explains how our lives and ultimately the fate of humankind are inextricably intertwined with that of earwigs, bees, lacewings, and hoverflies, unappreciated heroes of the natural world, and how we can all help to encourage biodiversity in our back yard.

Design for Biodiversity

By Carol Williams, Kelly Gunnell, Brian Murphy

Book cover of Design for Biodiversity: A Technical Guide for New and Existing Buildings

Many books now address designing low-energy buildings to mitigate climate change, but few focus on designing buildings to benefit wildlife. Given the global biodiversity crisis and modern buildings’ lack of accidental gaps to shelter birds, bats, and insects, more guidance on safely incorporating wildlife habitat within buildings and outdoor spaces is crucial. This was one of the inspirations behind my urban-rewilding campaign, Rewild My Street.


Who am I?

I am an architect, academic, and author, who is passionate about sustainable design. At London Metropolitan University I conduct design research on urban rewilding, and teach sustainable design to architecture and interior design students. I founded the Rewild My Street campaign, which aims to inspire and empower city residents to reverse biodiversity decline by transforming their homes, gardens, and streets for wildlife. My work combines my expertise in sustainable design; architectural-practice experience in housing, building conservation, and urban regeneration; and passion for wildlife. I am driven by designing and helping others design sustainable, biodiverse buildings, and cities.


I wrote...

Sustainability in Interior Design

By Sian Moxon,

Book cover of Sustainability in Interior Design

What is my book about?

The environmental impact of interior design practice is immense. This book highlights the need for designers to adapt the way they work and relearn lessons that have been lost. Sustainable design can be sophisticated and stylish. 

By its nature, a sustainable approach means considering the whole life cycle of a project and therefore improving the functionality, quality, human enjoyment, and bringing real social and economic benefits. A comprehensive reference book for anyone wanting to work in this area, this book has examples, techniques, and historical and contemporary case studies, all supported by useful resources and links. Moxon aims to introduce the ideas behind sustainability to students while they are formulating their understanding of the industry, encouraging and inspiring them with positive, creative and practical alternatives.

The Forgotten Pollinators

By Stephen L Buchmann, Gary Paul Nabhan, Paul Mirocha (illustrator)

Book cover of The Forgotten Pollinators

For me, this is the book that really started the current drive to conserve pollinators in our rapidly changing world. Other authors had written about bees in particular, and how pesticides and habitat destruction were affecting them, but Steve Buchmann and Gary Nabhan were the first to bring all of the evidence together for a wide range of pollinators, including hummingbirds and bats as well as insects. This was an enormously influential book that helped to shape public opinion, global policies, and actions around pollinator conservation. It also influenced the research direction, and subsequently professional careers, of many ecologists and naturalists, myself included.


Who am I?

As a kid growing up in the northeast of England I became fascinated by the insects, flowers, birds, geology, and seashore life around me. That fascination with natural history never left me and I had the fortune to turn my childhood interests into a professional career as a research scientist, teacher, and writer. My work on pollinators and plants has taken me around the world, from the grasslands of Oxfordshire to the deserts of Namibia and the mountains of Nepal, from the rainforests of Brazil and Australia to the thorny shrublands of Tenerife. The result has been more than 135 articles plus a couple of books. I must get back to writing the next one…


I wrote...

Pollinators and Pollination: Nature and Society

By Jeff Ollerton,

Book cover of Pollinators and Pollination: Nature and Society

What is my book about?

A unique and personal insight into the ecology and evolution of pollinators, their relationships with flowers, and their conservation in a rapidly changing world.

The pollination of flowers by insects, birds, and other animals is a fundamentally important ecological function that supports both the natural world and human society. Without pollinators to facilitate the sexual reproduction of plants, the world would be a biologically poorer place in which to live, there would be an impact on food security, and human health would suffer. Written by one of the world’s leading pollination ecologists, this book provides an introduction to what pollinators are, how their interactions with flowers have evolved, and the fundamental ecology of these relationships.

Many

By Nicola Davies, Emily Sutton (illustrator),

Book cover of Many: The Diversity of Life on Earth

I admire this lovely book for making a scientific concept both clear and inspiring to young readers. 

Many explains that we are surrounded all the time by many thousands of kinds of living things. Each one depends on others in a big, beautiful, complicated pattern—a pattern that also makes the world suitable for us. But in too many places we humans are breaking that pattern, and animals and plants are going extinct... Repeated readings will reveal new animals and plants in the colorful illustrations teeming with living things both familiar and exotic.


Who am I?

I’ve always been interested in the natural world. I grew up seeing the birds, raccoons, and deer that lived in the woods near my home in Western Pennsylvania. But over the years I began watching smaller things more carefully: tiny creatures with many legs—or no legs at all! I learned that even though earthworms are blind they can sense light. I realized that among “identical” ants, some behaved differently. I found out that if I was gentle, honeybees didn’t mind being petted. Even if we think they’re icky, we owe these tiny creatures our understanding and compassion.


I wrote...

The Rescuer of Tiny Creatures

By Curtis Manley, Lucy Ruth Cummins (illustrator),

Book cover of The Rescuer of Tiny Creatures

What is my book about?

Roberta rescues tiny creatures, like the worms she finds stranded in the middle of the sidewalk on her way to school. That earns her funny looks from the other kids. But one day there’s an invasion of tiny creatures in her classroom, and Roberta will need to use her knowledge and creativity to show everybody that tiny creatures aren’t so scary after all. They just need friends who rescue and understand them. 

Lucy Ruth Cummins’ dynamic illustrations show the tiny creatures Roberta rescues—and her emotional journey through the story, from ridicule to gratitude. The Rescuer of Tiny Creatures was selected as a Blueberry Award Changemaker book and a Nautilus Award Gold Winner.

Inheritors of the Earth

By Chris D. Thomas,

Book cover of Inheritors of the Earth: How Nature Is Thriving in an Age of Extinction

This book made me rethink many of my assumptions about biodiversity, extinction risk, and conservation. Telling stories from his travels and from research around the world, biologist Chris Thomas points out a paradox: While species are going extinct at an exceptionally high rate, the number of species in most Belgium or Vermont-sized areas of the world is rising.

Thomas is not denying the threats to species or the need to conserve biodiversity. Far from it. But he argues that conservation is often misguided and inherently unsustainable, trying to achieve a nonexistent ‘wild’ state and ignoring nature’s dynamism. He proposes a new philosophy of conservation, that is human-centered, accepting of biological change, sustainable, and aimed at maximizing biological diversity for future generations.


Who am I?

I am a tropical ecologist turned writer and editor focused on biodiversity, climate change, forests, and the people who depend on them. I did my doctoral research in rainforests in Borneo and Papua New Guinea and have since worked for media organizations and research institutes, and as a mentor to journalists around the world who report on environmental issues. Ecology taught me that everything is connected. Rainforests taught me that nature can leave a person awe-struck with its beauty, complexity, or sheer magnificence. I try to share my passion for these subjects through my writing.


I wrote...

Gods, Wasps and Stranglers: The Secret History and Redemptive Future of Fig Trees

By Mike Shanahan,

Book cover of Gods, Wasps and Stranglers: The Secret History and Redemptive Future of Fig Trees

What is my book about?

Gods, Wasps and Stranglers* will take you to rainforests, volcanoes, and ancient temples to discover the mind-blowing story of the strangler figs and their kin, which have shaped our world and our species in extraordinary ways. No other group of trees is more ecologically and culturally important. They sustain more species of wildlife than any other plants. They also fed our pre-human ancestors, influenced our evolution, enriched diverse cultures, and played key roles in the dawn of civilisation. Author Mike Shanahan weaves together the mythology, history, biology, and ecology of these fascinating trees, from their starring roles in every major religion to their potential to restore lost rainforests and conserve endangered species. 

*Published in the UK as Ladders to Heaven.

The Song of the Dodo

By David Quammen,

Book cover of The Song of the Dodo: Island Biogeography in an Age of Extinctions

Not many can manage the task of mastering a complicated subject and turn it into life—which means storytelling—as good as David Quammen. In his books he writes long passages on scientific discourses that sometimes come close to textbooks. But I enjoy reading them, because I learn so much and because he alternates these sections with (often very funny) stories. Stories of people that shape their scientific field, which reads like a good novel. Like in “The song of the Dodo”—a portrait of the scientific field of “Island Biogeography,” which explains why animal and plant species are where they are and why they become extinct when their habitat becomes too small.


Who am I?

As a science journalist I have concentrated on the consequences of climate change. It´s the most frightening as fascinating experiment, we conduct with our planet. In 2018 I wrote a book on extreme weather together with climate scientist Freddy Otto from the University of Oxford (Angry Weather). After this I got immersed in a different climate consequence: How it is affecting biodiversity and with it the foundation of our societies. But what I also love is good storytelling. I quickly get bored with texts that have no dramaturgy or that don't give the reader any pleasure—unlike the fantastic and highly relevant books on this list.


I wrote...

Nowhere Left to Go: How Climate Change Is Driving Species to the Ends of the Earth

By Benjamin von Brackel,

Book cover of Nowhere Left to Go: How Climate Change Is Driving Species to the Ends of the Earth

What is my book about?

As humans accelerate global warming, animals and plants must flee to the margins: on scattered nature reserves, between major highways, or among urban sprawl. And when even these places become too hot and inhospitable, wildlife is left with only one path to survival: an often-formidable journey toward the poles as they race to find a new home in a warming world. Tropical zones lose their inhabitants, beavers settle in Alaska, and gigantic shoals of fish disappear—just to reappear along foreign coastlines.

Award-winning environmental journalist Benjamin von Brackel traces these awe-inspiring journeys and celebrates the remarkable resilience of species around the world. But the lengths these plants and animals must go to avoid extinction are as alarming as they are inspirational.

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