Foreword
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xi Foreword Exequiel Ezcurra The archipelago is a little world within itself, or rather a satellite attached to America, whence it has derived a few stray colonists, and has received the general character of its indigenous productions. Seeing every height crowned with its crater, and the boundaries of most of the lava-streams still distinct, we are led to believe that within a period geologically recent the unbroken ocean was here spread out. Hence, both in space and time, we seem to be brought somewhat near to that great fact—that mystery of mysteries—the first appearance of new beings on this earth. —Charles Darwin, The Voyage of the Beagle (1860) In 1967 Robert MacArthur and Edward O. Wilson brought a breeze of excitement to the scientific community with the publication of their book The Theory of Island Biogeography, in which they proposed a model identifying and explaining the factors that drive the species richness of natural communities. Although the theory was developed to explain the biological richness and species distribution patterns in oceanic islands, it was obvious for most scientists that the implications were potentially immense. In a world increasingly fragmented by human activities, montane forests surrounded by drylands, continental lakes, tropical forest fragments surrounded by induced pastures, or protected natural areas surrounded by agriculture, can all be considered, in a way, ecological islands. A theory explaining the dynamics of species immigration, extinction, survival, and evolution in these enclosed microcosms promised a completely new approach for better understanding and managing the natural world. A scientific revolution was under way. As a result, myriad researchers set out to study island ecosystems, trying to understand the patterns observed and to test the theory’s main tenets. Island research became the driving force expanding the conceptual frontier of ecological sciences. Many American researchers were quick to realize that one of the most unspoiled archipelagos in the world is found in the Gulf of California, and many expeditions were organized to inventory and survey the biological richness of the Gulf Islands. Michael Soulé, the founder of the science of conservation biology, started working in 1970 with the genetics and population biology of island lizards. The exciting results of his fieldwork, and the sheer inspiration brought by the experience of working in the Gulf Islands, led him eventually to apply his knowledge into a new discipline. The emerging science of conservation biology was launched with the publication of an article in Bioscience (Soulé 1985) that opened his new ideas to the scientific world. Island biogeography in general, and the Gulf Islands in particular , were at the root of the development of conservation as a science. Many xii  Foreword other researchers followed the same track. The California Academy of Sciences, together with the University of California, Stanford University, and the San Diego Natural History Museum, regularly organized research trips to the Gulf Islands, and many seminal publications were derived from these expeditions. At that same time, Richard S. Felger was also working in the Gulf of California for his PhD at the University of Arizona,studyingthefloraoftheSonoranMidriffIslands. His approach, however, was different. Most researchers analyzed the biota of the islands mostly as a result of natural causes—immigration, emigration, extinction, and distance to the continental source—and believed, following the theory that over time, the countervailing forces of extinction and immigration would result in an equilibrium level of species richness. Felger, however, realized that human activities had been going on for a long time in the gulf, and that these anthropogenic factors were potentially very important. With strong human influences moving species around, it was difficult to conceive of the islands as in biological equilibrium. Thus, and following the ethnobotanical tradition of researchers such as Arturo Gómez-Pompa and Andrea Kaus (1992), Richard Felger approached the island biogeography problem by “taming the wilderness myth.” Instead of ignoring human influences in the gulf’s Midriff ecosystem, he worked with the Comcaac (Seri people) on the coast of Sonora and made a serious effort to understand their profound interaction with the island and coastal environments. In 1976, at the same time he and Charles Lowe published their immensely important report “The Island and Coastal Vegetation and Flora of the Northern Part of Gulf of California, Mexico,” he also published a paper describing his own ethnobotanical perspective on the natural world (Felger 1976). He clearly showed that areas, which to many researchers seemed remote and pristine, had been used by humans from very early times, and that understanding...


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