Evolution Under Pressure: How We Change Nature and How Nature Changes Us by Yolanda Ridge and illustrated by Dane Thibeault (Annick Press, May 2023) is a new volume for middle grade children and for young adults that explores how humans influence animals’ evolution. It discusses natural selection, as well as the “not-so-natural” selection, which shows the unfortunate ways that human interaction has directly impacted the evolutionary process within recorded history. Various chapters discuss the impact hunting, domestication of animals, pollution, and cities have “pressured” animals to evolve quickly in order to survive.
It is fascinating to me to see how, even in a few decades, an animal population is able to change based on natural selection. Here’s an example. During the early years of the industrial revolution, black peppered moths in coal-polluted England evolved, changing from the predominant white with black spots to moths with a black background and white spots, in order to better blend in with the coal dust coated landscapes. Now that coal pollution is under control, the moths are returning to their original coloring. This change naturally happened because of human decisions. Animals were forced to adapt in order to survive.
The author discusses the various issues (human hunting, domestication, pollution) by focusing first on a particular animal, just as an explanation of the problem of pollution focused on the peppered moth. In addition, she often explains the evolutionary process by naming the animals. So, when discussing the revolutionary impact of human hunting, she names the first hornless rhino Bruno (randomly born with a genetic mutation) in order to explain the reasons for his survival. It gave this nonfiction book a readable and friendly tone.
Evolution Under Pressure is sad when considering the negative impacts of humans over time. But the messages it teaches about how human impact has sped up this evolutionary process of natural selection is a solid concept to study, nicely weaving into lessons on ecology and environmentalism, as well as drawing awareness to contemporary issues. Each chapter provides a “What Do We Do Now?” section and a “Looking Forward” section to help give hope to the reader. Various side bars clarify concepts and an attractive layout with illustrations makes it an inviting read. An extensive bibliography (for adults) and “For More Information” section end the book.
Note: I received a digital review copy of this book.