Under Ground: How Creatures of Mud and Dirt Shape Our World

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Island Press, Jun 6, 2006 - Science - 246 pages
In childhood, the backyard, the flowerbed, the beach, puddles, lakes, and streams are infinitely fascinating. It is a mistake to leave that "childish" fascination with mud behind. The soils of the Earth, whether underneath our feet or pressurized beneath tons of ocean water, hold life in abundance. A handful of garden dirt may harbor more species than the entire aboveground Amazon.

The robotic rovers Spirit and Opportunity made headlines as they searched the Martian landscape for signs of life. But while our eyes have been turned toward the skies, teeming beneath us and largely unexplored lies what Science magazine recently called the true "final frontier." A growing array of scientists is exploring life in soils and sediments, uncovering a living world alien to our own senses--and yet one whose integrity turns out to be crucial to life above ground.

Yvonne Baskin takes the reader from the polar desert of Antarctica to the coastal rain forests of Canada, from the rangelands of Yellowstone National Park to the vanishing wetlands of the Mississippi River basin, from Dutch pastures to English sounds, and beyond. She introduces exotic underground creatures and shows us what scientists are learning about their contribution to sustaining a healthy world above ground. She also explores the alarming ways in which air pollution, trawl fishing, timber cutting, introductions of invasive species, wetland destruction, and the like threaten this underground diversity and how their loss, in turn, affects our own well being.

Two-thirds of the world's biological diversity exists in soils and underwater sediments, and yet most of us remain unaware of these tiny multitudes that run the planet beneath the scenes. In Under Ground, Baskin reveals the startling ways in which that life, whether in our own back yards, in fields and forests, or in the furthest reaches of the Earth, is more significant and fascinating than we once imagined.
 

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Contents

Opening the Black Box
1
Where Nematodes Are Lions
14
Of Ferns Bears and Slime Molds
38
The Power of Ecosystem Engineers
58
Plowing the Seabed
80
Microbes Muck and Dead Zones
100
Fungi and the Fate of Forests
121
Grazers Grass and Microbes
142
Restoring Power to the Soil
164
Epilogue
188
Notes
195
Acknowledgments
227
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About the author (2006)

Yvonne Baskin is author of The Work of Nature (Island Press, 1997) and A Plague of Rats and Rubbervines: The Growing Threat of Species Invasions (Island Press,2002). Her articles have appeared in Science, Natural History, Discover, and numerous other publications. The Scientific Committee on Problems of the Environment (SCOPE) was established by the International Council for Science (ICSU) in 1969. It brings together natural and social scientists to identify emerging or potential environmental issues and to address jointly the nature and solution of environmental problems on a global basis. With its headquarters in Paris, France, SCOPE programs are conducted by volunteer scientists from every inhabited continent of the globe.

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