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Chris Thomas is a Royal Society Fellow and a professor at the University of York.
Chris Thomas enters, with his book, hopefully subtitled “How nature is thriving in an age of extinction”. Decades of ecological research and travels in some of the most biologically interesting parts of the world, from Borneo to New Zealand (via Yorkshire), have revealed to him the scale of our impact on indigenous wildlife. But in the midst of this global extinction event, he was also discovering how our human changes were encouraging new life: immigrant species; newly emerging hybrids; and subspecies exhibiting freshly evolved adaptations. Such discoveries, which in many cases pertain to increased biodiversity under our influence, have been either ignored or dismissed as valueless by his fellow environmentalists. This thoughtfully argued book, full of rich examples, is Thomas’s attempt to “throw off the shackles of a pessimism-laden, loss-only view of the world” we are creating and to embrace our Anthropocene ecosystems....

The number of species living in virtually every country or island has already increased because of us, and will continue to increase....These new habitats and warmer temperatures present opportunities for a great many species, and Thomas describes remarkable success stories. “On the whole, more species like it hot than cold,” he writes, pointing out that British butterflies have ventured into northern climes as a result of warming and increased diversity there. The number of bird species moving uphill in Costa Rica’s mountainous cloud forests has greatly exceeded the number that have died out....

Rather than celebrating this extraordinary emergence of novel ecosystems and speciation, though, conservationists are instead trying to rid ecosystems of non-natives and restore them to their “pristine” state, often by “rewilding”. The problem with recreating the pristine is that it is misplaced nostalgia – the natural world is a dynamic system, so choosing which past to return to is entirely subjective and fraught with difficulties.

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