The Great Lakes: The Natural History of a Changing Region

Hardcover | September 26, 2007

byWayne GradyIllustratorEmily Damstra

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Ever since French explorer Samuel de Champlain's first taste of what he called "la mer douce"—the freshwater sea—the Great Lakes have been admired, exploited, and renewed. This vast region is a study in contrasts: a hub of industry that's the resting spot for billions of migrating birds. 40 million residents, immense untamed forests. Ninety-five percent of North America's fresh water and a dumping ground for poisonous wastes. The Great Lakes is an authoritative, accessible look at an ecosystem in eternal flux. Written by one of North America's most acclaimed science and nature writers, the book explores the area's geological formation and its role in human history; its diverse plant, bird, and animal species; and its significant physical, climatic, and environmental features. This captivating tribute to the Great Lakes region is also an essential guide to the challenge of preserving the natural world.

Published in partnership with the David Suzuki Foundation. Also available in paperback.

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Ever since French explorer Samuel de Champlain's first taste of what he called "la mer douce"—the freshwater sea—the Great Lakes have been admired, exploited, and renewed. This vast region is a study in contrasts: a hub of industry that's the resting spot for billions of migrating birds. 40 million residents, immense untamed forests. N...

Wayne Grady is one of Canada's finest science writers and a Governor General's Award-winning translator. He has authored eleven books of nonfiction, translated fourteen novels, and edited more than a dozen anthologies of short stories and creative nonfiction.

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Format:HardcoverDimensions:320 pages, 10 × 7.5 × 1 inPublished:September 26, 2007Publisher:Greystone Books Ltd.Language:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:1553651979

ISBN - 13:9781553651970

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Table of Contents

Prologue1 The Freshwater SeasAn introduction to the Great Lakes by a native son: author Wayne Grady was born in Windsor, Ontario, between Lakes Erie and Huron, and can link his family history to all five of the lakes. Grady sketches evocative portraits of the lakes and describes their distinct characters: their vast surface areas and depths make them, in the words of Samuel de Champlain, true "freshwater seas," with many of the properties normally associated with oceans. He also describes the surrounding drainage basins, diverse terrains that cover an area larger than France and serve as home to almost 40 million people and an extraordinary range of plant, animal, and bird life. For all the change that the Great Lakes' basin has experienced, it remains a life-sustaining, complex, and interconnected ecosystem, a region that inspires awe for its natural abundance and respect for its fragility. 2 Foundation StonesThe foundation stones of the Great Lakes are unimaginably old, but the lakes themselves are surprisingly young, assuming their present shapes, levels and water flows just 4000 years ago, around the time the great pyramids were being built in Egypt. They owe their creation to continental drift, repeated glaciations, and isostatic rebound - the slow uplift of land once depressed by glaciers - a process that is still going on today. The geological history of the lakes is still being written.3 The Boreal ForestThe glacial retreats left three major forest regimes stretched latitudinally across the region; the most northerly is the Boreal Forest, sitting like a toque on top of Lake Superior, and with a transition zone covering western Minnesota and the territory above Lake Huron. Primarily a conifer forest, it is the southern arm of the largest forest ecosystem in the world, the circumpolar boreal forest, and its composition of half land, half water, creates a climate that is damp, shaded, and cool with thin soil. 4 The Great Lakes-St Lawrence ForestRunning from the northern tip of Lake Huron south to the north shore of Lake Ontario and across to the northern parts of Wisconsin and Minnesota, this isthe familiar forest of Michigan's Upper Peninsula, Great Lakes cottage country, and Canada's Group of Seven landscapes. It is the home of more than 250 species of land vertebrates, dozens of species of waterfowl, and hundreds of species of songbirds. It was this forest that drove New World colonization and today its size and composition are vastly different from pre-settlement times. 5 The Carolinian ForestOccupying pockets of southern Ontario, upstate New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio, the Carolinian is the smallest of the three major forest regimes in the Great Lakes region. What it lacks in size it makes up for with enormous diversity: its 1600 species of plants, for example, include exotics found nowhere else in North America.6 Special Habitats: Wetlands, Alvars, and Urban ForestsThe basin's four wetland habitats - marshes, swamps, bogs, and fens - possess distinct physical features that are the nurseries for a vast array of plant and animal species. Its rare alvar terrains are unique in North America, with plant varieties found nowhere else. And, perhaps most surprising, its urban forests - in Toronto, Chicago, Buffalo, Milwaukee and elsewhere - are the preserves of all that is left of forest ecosystems that existed before settlement.7 WaterThis chapter explores the extraordinary dynamics of water in the Great Lakes - its sources, behaviour, and composition - and introduces the most common water-living native species, some threatened, some thriving, a few reviving. It also recounts the alarming effects of industrial and agricultural pollution since evidence of their damage became apparent in the 1950s. 8 InvasionsAs potentially harmful to Great Lakes ecology as man-made wastes, the myriad invasive species that have recently occupied the basin waters and terrain threaten to alter the makeup of both environments in ways that cannot yet be predicted. Sea lampreys, zebra mussels, Asian carp, purple loosestrife, garlic mustard and a host of other immigrants - some invited, most not - are making dramatic changes to the region's biota. 9 The Future The final chapter looks to the most immediate challenges facing the Great Lakes - pollution clean-up, invasive species, and dredging and damming schemes -and the two greatest long-term threats, water diversion and global warming. But Grady also examines such positive initiatives as wetlands restoration, forest renewal, and lake-edge preservation. The text ends with a vision of the Great Lakes as they once were and could be again. Appendix: Scientific NamesBibliographyIllustration and map creditsIndex

Editorial Reviews

The Great Lakes not only includes a terrific range of information but also, I think, inspires the aspiring bioregionalist-reader to look and think more closely at the relationships between everyday encounters with local flora and fauna…the best parts of the book allow us to catch a glimpse of the rich ecological relations of the watershed, and to consider our everyday actions in light of their inevitable impacts on the water, soil, plants and other animals that compromise the Great lakes – and theirs on usAssociation for Literature, Environment, and Culture in Canada""...he tantalizes you with a fact that is so intriguing that you really want to keep reading to discover more. For example, did you know that the beaver is the only mammal whose growth is indeterminate? They just keep growing!""Great Lakes For AllA beautifully designed, comprehensive gem of a guide to the ecosystem at the heart of Canada.”The TyeeGrady does a stellar job explaining how every creature from monarch butterflies… to Toronto’s skunks… to the frogs of the boreal forest… play out their chimerical or smelly roles in this vast and layered natural drama. …Threats to the Lakes’ integrity are increasingly met with resistance. If the written work is still meaningful in advancing this crucial resistance, this challenging book should be sent into battle immediately, and given a place on the front lines.”Globe and Mail…Grady writes compellingly about the rocks, forests and creatures of the lakes, as well as the changes for good and bad that have been seen over the years.”Chronicle Herald…the most complete and up-to-date resource about the ecology of the world’s largest freshwater system.”Explore Magazine