The Secret Wisdom of Nature: Trees, Animals, and the Extraordinary Balance of All Living Things ― Stories from Science and Observation

The Secret Wisdom of Nature: Trees, Animals, and the Extraordinary Balance of All Living Things ― Stories from Science and Observation

The final book in The Mysteries of Nature trilogy by the New York Times bestselling author of The Hidden Life of Trees, Peter Wohlleben.Nature is full of surprises: deciduous trees affect the rotation of the Earth, cranes sabotage the production of Iberian ham, and coniferous forests can make it rain. But what are the processes that drive these incredible phenomena? And wh...

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Title:The Secret Wisdom of Nature: Trees, Animals, and the Extraordinary Balance of All Living Things ― Stories from Science and Observation
Author:Peter Wohlleben
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Edition Language:English

The Secret Wisdom of Nature: Trees, Animals, and the Extraordinary Balance of All Living Things ― Stories from Science and Observation Reviews

  • Jonathan Tennis

    The last of the nature trilogy. Wohlleben sometimes repeats himself and so there is some info in this last book that was also in the earlier two. But he tells such a good story that it’s hardly noticeable. Recommend all three of these books.

    “Aphids attach themselves to the trees’ needles and bark, stick their mouthparts down to where the trees’ sap flows, and tap into the trees’ lifeblood. Thanks to photosynthesis, this “tree blood” has a high sugar content, but that’s not what the aphids are af

    The last of the nature trilogy. Wohlleben sometimes repeats himself and so there is some info in this last book that was also in the earlier two. But he tells such a good story that it’s hardly noticeable. Recommend all three of these books.

    “Aphids attach themselves to the trees’ needles and bark, stick their mouthparts down to where the trees’ sap flows, and tap into the trees’ lifeblood. Thanks to photosynthesis, this “tree blood” has a high sugar content, but that’s not what the aphids are after. What they want is protein, which is found in this fluid in only very small quantities. Therefore, the aphids need to allow enormous amounts of the trees’ fluids to flow through their bodies so that they can filter out enough of the scarce substances they desire. Whoever drinks a lot must excrete a lot, and aphids excrete almost constantly. If you park under aphid-infested trees in summer, your windshield will tell you all you need to know—in just a few hours, it will be covered with sticky droplets. And because the little creatures are constantly eating and excreting, over time their rear ends can get gummed up with sugar. Some species resort to covering their excretions with wax so that they can expel them more easily; others enlist the help of ants. Ants lap up the sugary feces, because, like their relatives the honeybees, sugar is the most important compenent in their diet. Per season, a single any colony digests about 50 gallons of these sugary droplets.” – p. 70

    “Dead animals are often the cause of fights, and wolves lost out when brown bears turn up. Then it’s best for the pack to head for the hills, particularly if they have pups, which a bruin could easily scarf down as a snack. Ravens have a role to play here: they spot bears from afar and help wolves by alerting the pack to approaching danger. In return, wolves allow ravens to help themselves to a share of the booty—something the birds wouldn’t be able to do without the wolves’ permission.” – p. 88-89

    “As researchers at Ulm University discovered, something else happens to the beetle mother: she loses interest in mating. Not only that, even if the male were to get lucky, it wouldn’t do any good, because his beloved is now completely infertile—at least as long as she has her full complement of babies. As soon as a couple of the little ones go missing (perhaps because they died or were eaten by some animal), her desire for sex returns. The male immediately gets wind of the change and goes beserk. The scientists observed up to three hundred copulations—more than when the male initially laid claim to the carcass. The female quickly lays new eggs to replace her loss. If, in this flurry of activity, she ends up with too many babies, she soon fixes things by killing the extras.” – p. 93

    “Empathy is one of the strongest forces in conservation and can achieve more than any number of rules and regulations. Think of the campaigns against whaling or against the slaughter of seal pups—public outcry was so loud only because we all empathized with the animals. And the closer the animals are to us, the greater the empathy.” – p. 125

    “A whole army of infectious agents has its eye on wild boar, including a large number of viruses. Viruses are remarkable, but what exactly are they? Scientists don’t include them among the living species of this earth, because they have no cells and can’t reproduce or metabolize on their own. All they are is a hollow shell that contains a blueprint for multiplication. Basically, they’re dead.” – p. 137-138

    “There’s a very different kind of myth surrounding species diversity. When we save individual animals or plants, we really believe we’re doing something good for the environment. Yet this is rarely what happens, mostly because when we have to change conditions in the environment to ensure the survival of one species, the survival of many others ends up in jeopardy. But I’m getting ahead of myself. When we see just how multilayered the interactions between different species are, we have to ask, once again, whether we will ever be able to fully comprehend the connections in our environment.” – p. 146

    **Arches National Park mentioned on p. 205

    “Researchers tell us that every person alive can be traced back to one mitochondrial Eve, who is said to have lived 200,000 to 300,000 years ago. The variations in skin color and other characteristics that have developed since then are disappearing increasingly quickly. What some people mourn as a loss of diversity, others embrace as an opportunity for humanity to bid goodbye to racial differences.” – p. 213-214

    “We don’t really understand how the clockwork of nature functions, and as long as we don’t, we shouldn’t try to fix it.” – p. 225

    “Of course, no one wants to return to times of famine, but our problem today isn’t cold but increasingly warm temperatures. The positive message from all of this is that not only can we win back the original forests, but doing that could also steer the climate in the right direction. And to achieve this we don’t even need to do anything. Just the opposite, in fact. We need to leave things alone—on as large a scale as possible.” – p. 232

  • Judith

    The third in PW's series and again excellently translated from the German by Jane Billinghurst, with bibliography incorporating articles and sources attainable in the US. In discussing the ecology of the woods and forests (mostly, though also the water sources of these places and grassy plains and agricultural sectors), PW shows how interconnected the environment is. Our solution to a problem plant/animal non-native is to release a bug that feeds on it, and to the problem (in our eyes) of an ani

    The third in PW's series and again excellently translated from the German by Jane Billinghurst, with bibliography incorporating articles and sources attainable in the US. In discussing the ecology of the woods and forests (mostly, though also the water sources of these places and grassy plains and agricultural sectors), PW shows how interconnected the environment is. Our solution to a problem plant/animal non-native is to release a bug that feeds on it, and to the problem (in our eyes) of an animal/plant we want to have more of (e.g. deer for hunters) is to put out feed, decrease predators, create more habitat that that animal/plant prefers. Rather we should be happy with what population numbers we have and not interfere. As PW points out, for centuries there has been in a way little or no non-interfered by humans area in Europe, so much of what we have ---or had 100 years ago--was hardly "native" "normal" "unspoiled". PW makes clear just how interwoven things are--in his first book he talked about the wood wide web, e.g. mother trees feeding their seedlings, healthy trees helping to support ailing neighbors. Here, he goes farther to discuss how the prolific mast years of tree nuts result in earthworms controlling the number of wild boar that feed on the nuts, how forests affect their local climate, rainfall, and use of water, the effects of increasing heat on trees and animals--from what we know of the interconnections of living things--and there is much that we do not know, even about common plants and animals. We know some of the interconnections, but much more likely are the great numbers of interconnections we don't know and do not have the resources or specialists to begin to tease out these interconnections. This volume is, I think, necessary to read; his exposition is clear, and his passion for nature is captivating.

  • Ben Thomas

    Another great book about the intricate relationship between all living things and how even small changes in our environment can have huge impacts in the whole system.

  • Brian Callahan

    I am always interested in learning more about animals, plants, insects, humans, etc. and how they interact. This is one of those books that helps remind me that there is a lot going on around us. We often don't give this a second thought as we go through our daily routine.

  • Andrew

    Back to classic Wohlleben exploring the interconnectedness of all living things. Much like trees there are some wonderful observations in here. But also some deeper questions about how humans can help nature or whether they even should.

  • David

    Wohlleben takes us through the forests he loves and examines the interconnected life that thrives there. His love for the forest comes through in every sentence. The web of live he describes is so complex and multifaceted that our understanding of it rudimentary at best. Our attempts to reclaim forests and to exploit forests disturb the web in ways we can see and many ways we can’t.

    Wohlleben sees the impact of climate change on the forest. He makes an interesting observation. There have been tim

    Wohlleben takes us through the forests he loves and examines the interconnected life that thrives there. His love for the forest comes through in every sentence. The web of live he describes is so complex and multifaceted that our understanding of it rudimentary at best. Our attempts to reclaim forests and to exploit forests disturb the web in ways we can see and many ways we can’t.

    Wohlleben sees the impact of climate change on the forest. He makes an interesting observation. There have been times when the amount of carbon in the atmosphere was much greater - an order of magnitude greater - than it is predicted to be in the next 50 years. Yet life thrived. Why? The carbon was added to atmosphere over millions of years. We’re loading carbon into the atmosphere in just a couple of hundred years. Too fast for most life - especially the trees of the forest - to adapt.

    Wohlleben recommends we leave the largest areas possible undisturbed and simply let nature take care of things.

  • Kathy

    I did not read the first two books of this trilogy but enjoyed the contents of this third book.

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  • Chuck Erion

    From The Waterloo Record, April 6, 2019

    This book, the third in Wohlleben’s trilogy called The Mysteries of Nature, is already on the nonfiction bestseller lists. I reviewed both the others, The Hidden Life of Trees and The Inner Life of Animals, so was eager to read his latest work. All three are fascinating compilations of stories from his lifetime as a forester in Germany and science he has learned along the way. And all three are overshadowed by the threat that climate change is bringing to t

    From The Waterloo Record, April 6, 2019

    This book, the third in Wohlleben’s trilogy called The Mysteries of Nature, is already on the nonfiction bestseller lists. I reviewed both the others, The Hidden Life of Trees and The Inner Life of Animals, so was eager to read his latest work. All three are fascinating compilations of stories from his lifetime as a forester in Germany and science he has learned along the way. And all three are overshadowed by the threat that climate change is bringing to the Earth’s natural environment, which is our home no matter how urbanized and cut off from it we become.

    The Mysteries of Nature follows the Trees and Animals volumes by tying both botany and biology together in ecology. In the first chapter, ecology is explained through the lens of Yellowstone National Park and its reintroduction of wolves. A nature video on this topic has had more than 45 million views. When wolves were eliminated there in the 1930s, the elk population surged which lead to overgrazing of grasses and small trees, reducing the number of birds and beavers…which led to erosion, changing the river courses and the fish in them. Finally, a wolf pack caught in Canada was reintroduced in 1995. The result, called by scientists a trophic cascade, is still being felt.

    Wolves, being at the top of the food chain, triggered vast ripple effects through the eco-system. We would assume that by eating elk, the trees would recover. But nature is more complex than that. The surviving elk became more cautious, avoiding wide open riverbanks and not eating the willow and poplar saplings there. This stabilized the riverbanks reducing erosion, and providing a food source for beavers. Their dams created more ponds, home to more amphibians and fish. The birds returned to the thicker tree growth. Grizzly bears had more berries to eat, competing for them with fewer elk.

    In the next chapter, Wohlleben shows how salmon have a similarly complex role in the forest ecology. On the west coast of North America, aging salmon return to the stream of their birthplace to lay eggs. The bears eat the fish, leaving their carcasses to other predators (minks, foxes, insects, birds of prey), which in turn leave salmon bones to decompose, adding up to 70% of the nitrogen in the soil. This speeds up the growth of trees: Sitka spruce have been found to grow three times faster where nitrogen from the ocean is available. That nitrogen is found all through the eco-system, in dead leaves, in insect bodies, in other animals and in the tree fiber itself.

    The author them turns to the effects of reintroducing of wolves in European forests, leading to the return of Atlantic salmon in cleaned up waterways. But bears have not returned, and would not be welcome in urban areas along rivers like the Rhine. Cormorants have come back and their role in the ecosystem (caustic defecation, too many salmon eaten) is at odds with the conservationists’ efforts.

    Wohlleben’s expertise is strongest in his own backyard, both literally and Eurocentricly. His backyard is the beech forest he manages in Hummel, Germany, source of his own experience and anecdotes. His books have been translated and sold widely but I kept hoping for more Canadian, or non-European, content. His voice is folksy, like a guide taking us on our tour of his favourite woodland spots. The science he quotes is footnoted but there has been pushback from critics who accuse him of anthropomorphizing trees and animals.

    Nonetheless, this book shows that we still don’t know enough about the vast interconnectedness of nature, and our interference with it. I’ll take folksy anecdotes if they help us learn greater respect for the environment which, for now, sustains us.

  • Tonstant Weader

    The Secret Wisdom of Nature focuses on the relationships between the flora and fauna of nature, things like how some plants, insects, birds, or animals interact with other plants, insects, or animals to survive, thrive, and multiply. Many of the relationships are fascinating and this book is full of “I didn’t know that” and “Hmm, interesting” information. This is the third in a series of books that began with “The Secret Wisdom of Trees.”

    Did you know trees affect the weather and change the rotat

    The Secret Wisdom of Nature focuses on the relationships between the flora and fauna of nature, things like how some plants, insects, birds, or animals interact with other plants, insects, or animals to survive, thrive, and multiply. Many of the relationships are fascinating and this book is full of “I didn’t know that” and “Hmm, interesting” information. This is the third in a series of books that began with “The Secret Wisdom of Trees.”

    Did you know trees affect the weather and change the rotation of the sun? Did you know they work in concert to react to threats and changes in their environment? Did you know the Brits love of feeding birds is changing the beak and wing shape of some birds? Did you know that for trees cannot “see” green so the daylight we see in the forest is dark for them? That is the kind of strange and surprising things you will learn reading this book.

    The Secret Wisdomof Nature is fascinating and informative. It is also maddening at times. Wohlleben anthropomorphized far too much. He attributes intention to biochemical responses and biologically-programmed instincts and behaviors. His nature is full of emotion. Of course, animals experience emotion. Anyone who saw the daily stories of J35 mourning her dead calf and her fellow Southern Resident orcas helped keep her and her calf afloat for seventeen days cannot deny the grief and emotional depths of animals. Wohllenben goes further than that, though, too far for me, describing plants and animals as emotional beings.

    I cringed sometimes when he described evolutionary processes, not necessarily because they were not happening but because he made them seem purposeful. His description of blackcap warbler evolution, for example, seems problematic. Some of them have taken to flying to England where people feed them rather than Spain where they eat berries and fruit, including olives. Natural selection has resulted in those with rounder wings and longer beaks doing better. But the way the author talks about it is far too intentional, not the random mutations turning out to be useful. There is an element of design in how he describes nature and that sets my teeth on edge.

    He also seems humanity as something apart from nature. He addresses this directly, writing we became separate from nature when we began farming. This is increasingly rejected by scientists and it’s a good thing, helping to understand the interdependence of humanity with the rest of the world. Still, I think many people will enjoy the book for all the “did you know” moments and his easy writing style. I can see people who see the world as designed really liking it.

    The Secret Wisdom of Nature will be published on March 5th. I received a copy for review from the publisher.

    The Secret Wisdom of Nature at Greystone

    Peter Wohlleben

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