A Desert Calling: Life in a Forbidding Landscape by Michael A. Mares

By Michael A. Mares

For many folks the notice "desert" inspires photos of barren barren region, titanic, dry stretches inimical to lifestyles. yet for a good array of creatures, maybe even extra ample than those that inhabit tropical rainforests, the desolate tract is a haven and a house. trip with Michael Mares into the deserts of Argentina, Iran, Egypt, and the yankee Southwest and you'll come across a wealthy and noteworthy number of those small, tenacious animals, a lot of them first found by way of Mares in components by no means prior to studied. Accompanying Mares on his forays into those antagonistic habitats, we detect the striking behavioral, physiological, and ecological diversifications that experience allowed such little-known species of rodents, bats, and different small mammals to persist in an arid international. whilst, we see firsthand the perils and pitfalls that wait for biologists who enterprise into the sector to enquire new habitats, observe new species, and upload to our wisdom of the range of lifestyles. jam-packed with the seductions and trials that such adventures entail, A wilderness Calling gives an intimate knowing of the biologist's vocation. As he astonishes us with the diversity and diversity of data to be received in the course of the made up our minds research of little-known habitats, Mares opens a window on his personal unusual lifestyles, in addition to at the unusual lifetime of the distant and mysterious corners of our planet. (20020401)

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Extra resources for A Desert Calling: Life in a Forbidding Landscape

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The chisel-toothed kangaroo rat (Dipodomys microps) lives in areas that support saltbush plants. Unlike its seed-eating relatives, this rat survives mainly on a diet of saltbush leaves. Since few mammals eat saltbush because of its extremely salty tissues, the obvious question is how did the rat manage to eat the salt contained in the plant? The chisel-shaped incisors serve an unexpected function. The animal takes the gray-green, salt-covered leaves of the saltbush in its forefeet and very carefully and deliberately scrapes each leaf against its lower incisors to strip away the salt-filled layer of cells that covers the leaves.

Cactus might seem like a good plant to eat if you can get past the spines, since the succulent branches contain both water and nutrients. But the cholla has more complex defenses than just its spines. Cholla produces oxalic acid, which is an organic acid that is used as a fungicide and as a bleach in woodworking and leatherworking. Oxalic acid is highly toxic to mam- 34 E L F I N FA R M E R S A N D C A C T O P H Y L I C C A R P E N T E R S mals. Humans would die if they ate oxalic acid, developing such terrible symptoms as tremors, convulsions, abdominal pain, vomiting, weak pulse, low blood pressure, and shock before succumbing.

The head is held near the soil surface and on either side of the mouth there is a fur-lined external cheek pouch into which the seeds are tossed. After filling the pouches the rat buries the seeds in storage chambers in its complex burrows or in shallow surface caches near burrow entrances. Seeds are an ideal desert food, being high in energy and remaining viable for years or even decades until the next rain. The accumulation of seeds in the soil (called the seed bank) is what leads to the spectacular desert blooms of annual plants that follow heavy rains.

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