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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

UNCP professor adds to the understanding of biodiversity

Biodiversity is an often-used word, but it was not yet a fully fleshed out idea, said Dr. David Zeigler, a biology professor at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke.

David ZeiglerDr. Zeigler’s new book “Understanding Biodiversity” (2007; Praeger Publishers; Westport, Conn.) is dedicated to shedding light on an important scientific concept.

“Everyone should invest some effort toward understanding the awesome diversity of life on earth,” he wrote. “Only then can we know how special this world actually is, how valuable it is, and how worthy of our awe and protection it is.”

Dr. Zeigler’s first book, “Essentials of Science,” was published in 2000 and concerns the basic nature of science. His second book offers a roadmap on the quest for discovery and understanding of the nature of the diversity of life on the planet.

Three years in the writing, Dr. Zeigler said “Understanding Biodiversity” is for scientists and layman alike.

“I admire scientists who can write for the general public, and I hope the book is accessible,” he said.

The book proposes a more comprehensive definition of biodiversity.

“I’ve read many books on biodiversity, and they never gave me a feel for what biodiversity is - just two or three aspects of it,” he said. “There are multiple aspects that define biodiversity, and I tried to lay the groundwork to more fully explain what it is.”

Traditionally, biodiversity is defined by three aspects – species, genetic and ecosystem diversity, Dr. Zeigler said. He pushes the definition further.

David Zeigler“The objective of this book is to make a case for, and elaborate on, this idea of multiple levels, scales and parameters within and along which diversity can and does exist,” he wrote in the first chapter.

The book draws out the forces that propel the diversity of life with chapters on evolutionary, genetic, reproductive, morphological, temporal, metabolic, life cycle, sensory, behavioral and cultural diversity among others.

Looking closer at a set of issues introduced in a chapter on behavioral and cultural diversity, Dr. Zeigler opens with this thought: “Organisms are not just material structures with distinct morphologies, they are also what they do.”

Behavior, the UNCP scientist agues, is derived from genetic and environmental processes, and it is diverse among and between the sexes, age groups, learning experiences and much more.

“In short, behavior is diverse,” he said. “Behavior is so diverse that it is not easily grouped and categorized into any obvious descriptive framework.

“Behavior is certainly an obvious part of the total organism in some groups, and it is often more diverse, and sometimes less diverse, than the diversity of species within the group under consideration,” he said.

Behavior presents “another interesting and valid parameter of biodiversity,” he concluded.

The final chapter takes the reader to yet another level. In the chapter “Biodiversity and Values,” Dr. Zeigler asks a question central to his enterprise: “.. just how widely known and appreciated are these important facts concerning the importance and decline of biodiversity?”

Unhappily, the author finds the answer is evident in the decline of our planet’s environment and diversity of life. Because man is the only life form that can eradicate other life forms, he is also capable of reversing course. Education is Dr. Zeigler’s antidote, and his new book would benefit almost any reader.

Understanding Biodiversity cover“There is clearly not enough exposure of biodiversity issues in modern society,” he said. “If we possess this wonderful and enriching ability to value the whole of earthly life, should we not be developing it to the fullest?”

“The more we can comprehend of biodiversity, the more we may appreciate it, stand in awe of , and value it for what it is, rather than for what it can do for us,” he writes in the concluding chapter.

Dr. Zeigler’s book earned praise from colleagues.

“I recommend it for life scientists and educated lay persons alike,” said Dr. Len Holmes, a UNCP chemistry professor. “It is for persons interested in our planet, and biodiversity is something we should all have a better understanding of.

Dr. Bruce Ezell, a UNCP biology professor, said Dr. Zeigler “is truly a ‘professor’s professor.’”

“I admire David Zeigler for many reasons, his scholarship, his love of teaching and his commitment to continued learning,” Dr. Ezell said.

Dr. Zeigler lists scientific interest in animal behavior, invertebrate zoology, evolution, biodiversity, parasitology, neurobiology, the biological nature of consciousness, and the basic nature of science. He joined UNCP’s faculty in 1989 and has taught a long list of courses including introductory biology, marine biology, zoology, parisitology and evolution.

“I am extremely fortunate to have taught every biology course I ever wanted to teach,” he said. “I credit my job with allowing me to do this.”

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