Western North American Naturalist 70(1), © 2010, pp. 135-136.
The California Deserts: An Ecologic Redis- latitude into his discussions. Some of the most
covery. 2008. Bruce M. Pavlik. Univer- interesting reading is about how life subsists
sity of California Press, Berkeley. $27.50; in these 3 desert extremes. The variety of
365 pp. ISBN 978-0-520-25145-8. mechanisms that allows these biotic forms to
survive is wonderfully explained. In addition
Bruce Pavlik has recently produced one of to covering these “historic” deserts, Pavlik also
the most impressive volumes available on Cali- writes about “prehistoric” California deserts:
fornia’s deserts. His book is a synthesis that he explains why the deserts look the way they
expands on Edmund Jaeger’s classic The Cali- do, how lakes once expanded across many of
fornia Deserts (1933). Using 75 years of recent the valleys, and which species once roamed
ecological research, Pavlik chronicles Califor- over the landscapes.
nia’s deserts in an interesting and engaging The impacts of desert ecosystems on humans
way. The book has many color photos; in fact, are not ignored in Pavlik’s book either. He
nearly every page has a photo, diagram, graph, starts by discussing the effects deserts had on
map, or chart to complement the written text. early Native Americans, including the effects
Scattered throughout are also text boxes that on their very survival. With the arrival of
explore specific ecological principles or Europeans in the 1770s and the eventual mass
nuances. The book is divided into 7 logical settling of California in the 1850s, Pavlik does
parts—a brief introduction followed by 6 not hesitate to also explain human influence
major topics called “Rediscovery,” “A Conspir- on the desert landscapes, for better or worse.
acy of Extremes,” “Operations and Origins,” His most emotional chapter is indeed the one
“Remarkable Biota,” “Greater Than the Sum entitled “The Future of this Arid Bioregion.”
of the Parts,” and “The Future of this Arid This chapter should be read—if nothing else.
Bioregion.” It chronicles the intense suffering the Califor-
The research and first-hand knowledge nia deserts have endured: we have abused it,
that went into this hefty book are remarkable. overgrazed it, overdrafted its water tables, dri-
Pavlik links biotic with the abiotic compo- ven its native human populations to near
nents to demonstrate that deserts are breathing, extinction, and pushed its flora and fauna to
living beings. These details show that although ecological catastrophe. It is now up to us to
California’s deserts are robust and durable, restore the deserts; it is our responsibility and
they are, at the same time, very delicate ecosys- part of our stewardship as residents of this
tems that evolved over thousands of years. planet. Pavlik explains our environmental
When viewed against this unforgiving nature impacts on the desert ecosystems but is also
of desert ecosystems, the principles of nat- optimistic that our restoration and conserva-
ural selection become very clear, and Pavlik tion efforts for endangered plants and animals
deftly captures these struggles on nearly every are paying off.
page. Pavlik’s book would make a wonderful text
California is unique in that within its bor- for a desert ecology course. It should be read
ders are 3 different desert ecosystems: the by anyone interested in exploring all 3 of Cali-
Mojave, the Sonoran, and the Great Basin. fornia’s deserts in a single volume. By writing
Each desert is discussed, and the flora and this book, Pavlik does the desert a great jus-
fauna occurring in these ecosystems are com- tice, and I hope that it will become an influen-
pared and contrasted. Pavlik points out these tial cornerstone in desert ecology and conser-
deserts’ unique differences, creatively incor- vation. The California deserts are too precious
porating climate, elevation, soil types, and and beautiful not to rediscover.
136 BOOK REVIEWS [Volume 70
LITERATURE CITED Howard O. Clark, Jr.
H. T. Harvey & Associates
JAEGER, E.C. 1933. The California deserts: a visitor’s 7815 North Palm Avenue, Suite 310
handbook. Stanford University Press, Stanford, CA.
207 pp. Fresno, CA 93711-5511
(Continued from back cover)
The Natural History of the U.C. Santa Cruz Campus
by Tonya M. Haff, Martha T. Brown, and W. Breck Tyler . . . . . . . . . R. Edward Grumbine 130
California’s Fading Wildflowers: Lost Legacy and Biological Invasions
by Richard A. Minnich . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Howard O. Clark Jr. 132
The California Deserts: An Ecologic Rediscovery
by Bruce M. Pavlik . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Howard O. Clark Jr. 135