Inheritors of the Earth

How Nature Is Thriving in an Age of Extinction


By Chris D. Thomas

Formats and Prices




$36.50 CAD

This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around September 5, 2017. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.

Human activity has irreversibly changed the natural environment. But the news isn’t all bad.

It’s accepted wisdom today that human beings have permanently damaged the natural world, causing extinction, deforestation, pollution, and of course climate change. But in Inheritors of the Earth, biologist Chris Thomas shows that this obscures a more hopeful truth — we’re also helping nature grow and change. Human cities and mass agriculture have created new places for enterprising animals and plants to live, and our activities have stimulated evolutionary change in virtually every population of living species. Most remarkably, Thomas shows, humans may well have raised the rate at which new species are formed to the highest level in the history of our planet.

Drawing on the success stories of diverse species, from the ochre-colored comma butterfly to the New Zealand pukeko, Thomas overturns the accepted story of declining biodiversity on Earth. In so doing, he questions why we resist new forms of life, and why we see ourselves as unnatural. Ultimately, he suggests that if life on Earth can recover from the asteroid that killed off the dinosaurs, it can survive the onslaughts of the technological age. This eye-opening book is a profound reexamination of the relationship between humanity and the natural world.





Gains and losses

The Vale of York is a landscape of ecological despair. Billowing clouds emerge as condensation from the cooling towers of distant power stations and then rise above the plain. Fields of wheat, barley and oilseed rape disappear towards its flat horizons. Ploughs and combine-harvesters trundle where brown bears once snuffled through primeval forests and wild cattle wallowed in peaty swamps. It is one of the most intensively farmed parts of England, and England is one of the most densely populated countries in Europe.

Yet when I survey this landscape from my study window, I see a green world punctuated by scarlet specks of poppy flowers swaying in the breeze. Coppery pheasants are strutting in search of fallen seeds, dowdy field voles are scurrying back and forth below tussocks of grass, and camouflaged greenfly are jostling for position as they suck juices from the veins of young leaves. Their enemies are on the prowl too. Rufous foxes are sniffing out a pheasant meal, hovering kestrels are watchful for the slightest movement of a vole, and dangerous harlequin ladybird beetles are laying waste to the greenfly. Lines of helmet-sized molehills hint at the life below ground, where microbes and fungi decompose fallen leaves and velvety moles consume gritty worms. A water vole is burrowing through a mat of pigmyweed in the pond.

The apparently denuded vale is full of species, and many are world travellers. The harlequin ladybirds originated in Asia; the small-leaved pigmyweed in Tasmania; poppies came as contaminants of grain from continental Europe; and kestrels arrived under their own volition, able to catch their rodent prey once the forest was cleared. In contrast, the tunnelling moles have survived generations of tumult as the ancient forest was converted into farmland; now they burrow beneath road verges and grassy lawns. Although these players and the scenery of life's game–the species and habitats–have changed on account of the presence of humans, the basics of biology remain. Regardless of their origins, the plants growing in the fields, roadsides, ditches, hedgerows, gardens and scattered copses still capture energy from the sun and convert it into leaves, rendering the world green; animals consume plants and their seeds and in turn are killed and eaten by other animals. Decomposing plants, animals and faeces are recycled as nutrients, used by next year's growth. The rules of life continue, save Homo sapiens is now a key player.

It is the same elsewhere. Familiar creatures have taken the human-modified Earth by storm, be they talkative yellow-billed Indian myna birds that are now at home in Florida, Japan, Sumatra, Madagascar and Australia, agile mice that started life in Asia and then spread throughout the cities, towns and farmsteads of the world, or Australian wattle trees and previously endangered Californian pines that are growing wild in Africa. They are joined by thousands of other mammals, birds and plants, as well as by microbes, fungi, worms, snails, shrimps, insects, fish, toads and lizards. The trickle of successful species1 taking advantage of human-created opportunities is becoming a torrent. Seemingly, there are as many winners as losers.

We should certainly mourn the losses. The biological and physical processes of the Earth already bear the indelible signature of humanity–this is why scientists are increasingly referring to the present day as the Anthropocene epoch. We have converted a third of the world's vegetation to produce our food, leaving a diminishing space for wild plants and animals. We have altered the great chemical cycles of the Earth beyond their historical bounds, acidified the oceans and changed the climate of the entire planet, threatening any species that cannot adjust. Our ancestors hunted most of the largest land animals to extinction, and we exterminated others by transporting voracious predators and virulent diseases to remote islands. Of those that survive, 13 per cent of bird species, 26 per cent of mammals, 31 per cent of cacti, 33 per cent of reef-forming corals and 42 per cent of amphibians are threatened in some way.2 A mass extinction is in full swing, and prognoses for the future seem dire. For these reasons, we have gone so far as to describe ourselves as the scourge of the Earth, and as exceeding our planetary boundaries.

On the other hand, we are still surrounded by large numbers of species, many of which appear to be benefitting from our presence. If some species are declining but others are thriving in this human-altered world, is the prognosis really as bad as the doom-laden message of biological decline? It is important to recognize the ways our actions threaten the Earth, of course, and I will highlight many losses that have already taken place and continue to this day. However, in many respects, nature is coping surprisingly well in the human era. We should not ignore the gain side of the great biological equation of life.

It is vital that we take a broad view, considering all the evidence, if we are to draw conclusions that run somewhat counter to the 'paradigm of biological decline' that predominates among ecologists, environmentalists and conservationists. So, in this book, we will embark on a round-the-world tour of the planet's diverse continents and far-flung islands, visiting locations where my research has taken me over the past several decades. (I refer to changes in the oceans only in passing, in the interests of keeping this volume to a manageable length and because it is not my area of expertise.)3 Our journey will take in tick- and leech-filled tropical forests, bone-cold high mountains, oceanic archipelagos overrun by foreign species and landscapes devoted to the production of our food; each with its own separate human history. I also draw on insights from a wider scientific literature, based on research that has been carried out in a broader range of locations across the Earth. This is important because we live in a globalized world: our greenhouse-gas emissions warm the climate everywhere; we consume food and use timber that may have been grown on the opposite side of our planet; and species are being transported in our wake. We need a truly global perspective to understand the ramifications of our own actions.

We also need to set today's changes in their appropriate historical context, which involves time spans much longer than we are used to thinking about in our everyday lives. This is necessary because the story of life on Earth is one of never-ending change: be that the arrival and disappearance of species from a particular location (ecological change) or the longer-term formation of new species and extinction of others (evolutionary change). So we examine the responses of species and ecosystems to human impacts over periods that range from years to millennia. We will also reflect on the fates of animals and plants as they experienced ice ages on schedules of tens to hundreds of thousands of years. And we will examine the consequences when different types of animals and plants meet up for the first time, as happened several million years ago, when a land connection was made between North and South America, introducing sabre-toothed cats, four-tusked elephants, camels and tapirs from the north to a southern continent inhabited by marsupial lions, porcupines, giant ground sloths and enormous armadillos. The message is clear. Some species don't make it. Yet, it is equally clear that there are always survivors, and they persist and then thrive by moving across the surface of the Earth to places that are hospitable to them, and by evolving new capabilities. They are still doing so today.

In this journey through time and space, we make some surprising discoveries. Visits to coastal Brazil, to the tropical forests of Mexico and Cameroon and to the thoroughly transformed British Isles reveal that new species have colonized landscapes that contain a mixture of arable fields, pastures, hedgerows, plantations, orchards, logged forests, ditches and towns faster than the rate at which species that used to live in the original habitats have disappeared (as long as there are still sufficient remnants of the earlier vegetation to act as refuges for the more sensitive species). The result of these comings and goings has been that diversity has grown in nearly all regions of the world that cover areas as large as, say, Belgium or the state of Vermont. Moreover, our reliance on agriculture means that we no longer need to hunt for food as our ancestors did–hence, the numbers of bison and other large mammals are starting to rise again in North America and Europe, where the cultural transition from killing to saving animals has developed most strongly. Climate change is playing its part too. More species like it hot than cold, and so the overall consequence of a warmer climate is to raise biological diversity in many parts of the world.

This rise in the number of species in each region has been fuelled unwittingly by human action–as we have colonized all six continents, we have carried different species with us, from horses to hippos, pigeons to pythons, lobsters to lionfish. We are acting as a global glue, bringing together previously isolated biological worlds into one 'virtual continent', a New Pangea. In so doing, we are initiating a modern retelling of what has always been key to the story of life on Earth–the successful succeed. This is seen most keenly on remote islands, where introduced rats, cats, dogs, stoats and human apes have ousted tame, flightless and disease-prone birds and walking bats that have been isolated for millions of years. The continental carnivores and diseases have won, as we will discover in New Zealand and elsewhere. However, most new species that arrive do not displace any others, the consequence of which is that these islands now contain far more species than they used to. The same is true of our continents–the diversity of forest trees and shrubs is increasing in the Alps of southern Europe, for example, because many more immigrant species have established new populations than native species have disappeared. This is the norm–immigration usually increases the diversity of the recipient region.

In the longer run, the generation of biological diversity is down to evolution. The biological riches we see around us today exist because more different types of microbes, plants and animals have evolved than have become extinct over the course of the Earth's history. The Earth formed 4.5 billion years ago, single cells came into existence over 3.5 billion years ago, creatures consisting of complex bodies took off in the last 600 million years, and the diversification of life on land has occupied the last 450 million years. On average, biological gains have tended to have the upper hand, and this increasing variety of life seems likely to continue for hundreds of millions of years to come. Yes, periods when the levels of extinction are high–as they are now–represent major setbacks, but in the end they have provided new opportunities for enterprising creatures that have been able to exploit the new conditions. Nature has come back from mass extinctions before and the variety of life has grown again. Could this happen once more? Living through an age of extinction provides us with a unique opportunity to explore whether there is an evolutionary yang to the yin of human impacts.

It seems that there is–a global-scale spate of rapid evolution is in full flow. We will meet butterflies in the USA and in the meadows of Britain and Europe, and Australian crickets now living in the Hawaiian Islands, which are all evolving new ways of surviving in the human-altered world. Just as some species are thriving in modern times, some genetically distinct individuals and genes are becoming increasingly successful. Even more remarkable, new animal and plant species are coming into existence, an evolutionary signature of the Anthropocene epoch. In fact, the formation of new hybrid plant species in Europe and North America would appear to be faster already than the rate at which previously existing plants are becoming extinct. Furthermore, animals and plants which we have transported around the world are acquiring characteristics that make them less and less like their ancestors. Eventually, they will become separate species. The Earth is poised for a massive acceleration in the formation of new species–come back in a million years and we might be looking at several million additional species whose existence can be attributed to the activities of humans.

This broad geographical, historical, ecological and evolutionary context reminds us that the biological world is in constant flux. Dynamic change means that we face an indefinite future of biological gains as well as losses–often with humans the underlying cause. What are we to make of this human-altered world? The default stance of conservation is to keep things as unchanged as possible or, alternatively, to return conditions to what they used to be, or somehow to make the Earth 'more natural' (which can usually be interpreted as meaning 'with reduced human impact'). Not only are these untenable aspirations while the world's human population continues to grow and each of us consumes more resources, but hold-the-line strategies implicitly dismiss as undesirable the continuing biological gains of the human epoch. Where is the logic in this? Attempting to prevent the establishment of 'alien' arrivals and to kill 'impure' new hybrids so as to maintain our ecosystems and species in some idealized state is not possible, nor is it obvious that the past state of the world is objectively preferable to the new state that is coming into existence.

We need a new rationale for the relationship between humanity and the natural world in which humans are regarded as part of nature, given that we, too, have evolved and everywhere on Earth has already been altered by us. We have to work with natural biological processes, not against them. There is no point in taking on a never-ending fight with the inevitability of eventual failure. The new philosophy opens the door to a more optimistic approach. It permits us to be appreciative of the biological beneficiaries of the human-altered environment, while remaining cognisant of the many human-caused losses. Keeping as many species as possible alive on our global Ark should still be a primary target for our conservation activities, however, because these species and those that evolve from them are the building blocks from which every future ecological system will be constructed. They will fuel future dynamism.

Rather than swim against the tide of ecological and evolutionary change, we should remember that the old was once new. The story of life is one of diversification and renewal–successful genes and species win the game. It is time for the ecological, conservation and environmental movement–of which I am a life-long member–to throw off the shackles of a pessimism-laden, loss-only view of the world. Why should we not aspire to a world where it is as legitimate to facilitate new gains as it is to avoid losses? But before we get to this, we need to consider the success stories that have already unfolded, and how it is that humans might eventually increase the biological diversity of the Earth.



A rutted track snakes inland from the eastern shores of the Caspian Sea. Clouds of dust bring glistening tears to the eyes of the weary traveller. Mile after mile, a khaki world extends into the distance. The Asian steppe is a tough place for Earthlings, the landscape little more than dry grasses, low bushes and crumbling earthen banks.

Cheep emanates from a dry crack in a bank beside the track.

Cheep, cheep. The sound is surprisingly familiar. Then, a small grey, black and russet object emerges from the hazy sky and disappears into the crack with a flurry of feathers and dust. A cacophony of high-pitched squeaking follows; it is feeding time on the steppe. A few seconds later, its chicks fed, out pops a sparrow. No wonder it sounded familiar.

Its relatively large and pallid appearance identify the bird as a Bactrian sparrow. Roadside 'camel-crossing' signs depict animals with two humps, revealing that this is also the land of the Bactrian camel. The sparrows spend the spring and summer raising young in the open landscapes that range from southern Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and eastwards towards the Bactrian plain of Tajikistan and northern Afghanistan. Then they travel southwards to spend the winter months foraging for grass seeds and dropped cereal grain over the plains of Pakistan and northern India, before travelling northwards the following spring to avoid the oven-like Indian summer. It is a natural cycle, a wild bird migrating to avoid the north when it is too cold and the south when it is too hot.

The occasional intrepid Bactrian sparrow is drawn away from this tough landscape in search of easy pickings. They can be spotted stealing grain from local stalls in Kazakhstan's Baikonur market during the summer months, and from the small Indian village markets that dot Rajasthan's landscape in winter. And this may be how it all started. Somewhere in the swathe of land that today encompasses northern India, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq and westwards to Syria, wild sparrows much like the present-day Bactrian sparrows must have started to find it easier to find food by hanging around the villages that sprang up in the fertile valleys where agriculture first developed. The large and tasty grass seeds–progenitors of wheat–that our ancestors cultivated would have been enticing. Rather than glean small, scattered seeds from the steppes and semi-deserts of western and southern Asia, why not head into town and stuff your crop from a large pile of big fat grains? It is easy to imagine that these bloated individuals might have survived better, and then have been able to raise more chicks than their wilder ancestors. And if the villagers were also making new earthen banks with cracks in them–the walls and roofs of their houses–then why not nest in them rather than fly miles away in search of natural crevices? So it must have been that a group of sparrows gradually abandoned their wild existence, maybe ten thousand years ago, and moved into our villages and towns. They have been our companions ever since.

Its destiny sealed, the sparrow spread around the world from its origin in Asia, moving to wherever we built houses, spilt grain, left bags of food unguarded and deliberately threw out our scraps for them.1 The wild grey-headed sparrows, with streaked orange-brown and black wings and creamy-grey breasts, whose appearance allowed them to merge into the brownscapes of western Asia, entered our homes and became the familiar house sparrow. These new domestic sparrows remain the same biological species as the truly wild birds that still fly out over the Asian steppe in search of insects and seeds. In some respects, they are unchanged. They continue to pursue insects for their young (often in our yards and fields) and seek out grass seeds (which we call cereal grains) for themselves. They are still living in grey-brown places: our towns–it just turned out that the conversion of the world into a land of farms, villages, towns and cities made the whole world just a bit more like their Asian homeland. They got lucky.

The house sparrow conquered Asia and Europe thousands of years ago, eventually coming to inhabit villages and towns from Portugal in the west to China in the east, and from Sri Lanka in the south to Norway in the north. The familiarity of Ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Romans and Indians with them attests to the long period over which sparrows have been integrated into the human world. They became part of human culture: they were sacred to Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, and their exuberant and public copulation led the Indian scientist Varāhamihira to admire the sparrow's virility in the sixth century. Others interpreted their behaviour as vulgar. Sparrow hieroglyphs denoted a sense of being bad and small to Ancient Egyptians. St Matthew's gospel related how sparrows were regarded as of such low value that two would be sold for a single Roman assarion coin.

Somewhat more recently, Queen Elizabeth I's 1566 law classified sparrows as vermin and placed a small bounty on each bird in England. In the eighteenth century, the sparrow was the nursery-rhyme villain who killed cock robin with his bow and arrow. Hymn writer Civilla Martin composed 'His Eye is on the Sparrow' in 1905 to explain how, if the Lord's munificence stretches as far as the insignificant sparrow, he surely must care for any human who would sing his praises. Humans have had a love-hate relationship with the house sparrow for at least five thousand years, and probably for ten thousand.

Having completed its European and Asian adventure, the sparrow was then thwarted, bounded by the Atlantic Ocean to the west, and by the Indian Ocean and the Sahara Desert to the south. These distances were too far to fly. If it was to follow the burgeoning world's human population elsewhere, it needed help. Fortunately, it was at hand. In the nineteenth century, New Yorker Eugene Schieffelin embarked on releasing–in North America–every different kind of bird that was mentioned in the works of William Shakespeare. To help achieve his aim, Schieffelin argued that 'English' sparrows, as they had by then become known, would help control insect pests in the New World. So they were brought to North America to get rid of a 'plague' of caterpillars of the snow-white linden moth on no stronger evidence than that sparrows sometimes eat caterpillars. They failed to control the caterpillars and instead mainly consumed dropped grain, human food scraps, and seeds that could be excavated from the piles of horse dung that adorned the streets of New York City at the time. They were released in at least a hundred towns and cities across thirty-nine American states and four Canadian provinces between 1851 and the end of the 1880s.2

The house sparrow has a contrasting grey crown.

The Italian sparrow's crown is brown and it has a neater chin.

Tree sparrows clearing leftovers off plates in a jungle lodge at Danum, in Borneo.

Tree sparrow with its dark cheek patch.

Seeking out scraps on a feeding station for proboscis monkeys. House sparrows originated in Asia and are now spread throughout the world, associated with humans. Tree sparrows are also found in Asia, but have become the urban and village sparrow of tropical Southeast Asia; another human-associated success story. Italian sparrows did not exist before humans developed agriculture and towns. They originated when house sparrows spread out of Asia and hybridized with Spanish sparrows.

Sparrows were also introduced to Cuba and Argentina in the 1800s and quickly spread through the Americas. They were released in Australia and New Zealand, and brought to South Africa and Zanzibar, from where they colonized most of the other countries that lie to the south of the Sahara. They even made it to remote islands across the Pacific, Indian and Atlantic Oceans, sometimes intentionally, sometimes as stowaways. The house sparrow became a true world traveller. A fairly localized and apparently quite unexceptional russet brown, buff, black and grey bird that lived in the grassy plains of Asia has become one of the Earth's most widespread species, relying on humans to provide it with transport, food and homes. It is one of the most successful species in the world: inheritor number one of the human-altered Earth.

The close association of humans and sparrows continues to the present day and still generates the age-old mix of fondness and irritation. My childhood education in coarse language was provided by my father's guttural curses as he cleared sparrow nests that were blocking our house's down-pipes; a mass of dry grass, feathers, horsehair, paper and baling twine showered me as I steadied the ladder. Dad found sparrows distinctly irritating, and he would have been delighted that there are only a third as many house sparrows in Great Britain today as there were on that summer day of 1967 when we cleared the eaves. But conservationists and concerned citizens are seemingly on the side of my seven-year-old self, who liked having sparrows nesting in the roof. They want to protect sparrows, even though British house sparrows actually stopped declining around about the year 2000; there are still over 10 million of them in Britain, not to mention half a billion in the world.3 The house sparrow is one of the most widespread animals on our planet and, if we are to be rational about spending limited conservation budgets, one of the species that least needs our help. This concern for house sparrows is doubly odd because conservationists tend not to look kindly on foreign species–and there would be no house sparrows at all in Britain had it not been for the fact that humans created somewhat steppe-like conditions in the Home Counties. But sparrows arrived long enough ago that we have apparently declared them to be a 'native species' that needs protection. Researchers funded by government, conservation organizations and universities have been spending time and money to diagnose the 'problem', which implies that the preferred state of Britain is to have even more sparrows. More precisely, because the justification for the work is the two-thirds decline between the 1970s and the year 2000, the 'correct' number of house sparrows is taken to be roughly how many there were in the 1970s. Picking any specific date is obviously completely arbitrary. Choose a start date of ten thousand years ago, and the 'correct' number of house sparrows in Britain would be zero. Not to be put off, the recent surge in enthusiasm for sparrows has even been incorporated into an updated 1981 version of English law, which aims to protect all wild birds. In the second Elizabethan age, it is illegal to kill or injure sparrows intentionally, or to remove any of their nests that are in active use.

This research has revealed that the late-twentieth-century decline likely stemmed from a reduction in the amount of dropped grain and weed seeds, insufficient insect food in urban areas to provision their chicks, and perhaps also from an absence of suitable crevices for the birds to use as nest sites in modern buildings.4 Cleanliness leads to fewer sparrows. The solution was obvious: feed the birds. The bird-feeder business is booming and people have even started putting out trays of expensive mealworms (beetle larvae) so that sparrows can supply their insect-deprived chicks with protein-rich meals. Concerned citizens and local councils have begun to install human-made breeding cavities. You can purchase conventional wooden nest boxes, 3D-printed ones, or hollowed-out bricks that provide nesting sites in the walls of your house and three-storey sparrow houses to provide safe havens. The love that humans have for sparrows seemingly has no end.

But the hate continues too. A century ago, the professional writer and lecturer William Dawson, no fan of Eugene Schieffelin, described the introduction of the English sparrow to the United States as 'the most deplorable event in the history of American ornithology'.5 While European researchers and conservationists try to increase the numbers of sparrows, their North American counterparts contemplate the reverse. You can order sparrow-proof nest boxes and 'Deluxe Repeating Sparrow Traps' online. No doubt it is a profitable business selling anti-sparrow devices to concerned citizens wishing to oust unwelcome foreigners, and pro-sparrow feeders and nesting boxes to their neighbours who would welcome them in!

In America, sparrows stand accused of evicting beautiful native bluebirds from their nesting holes, and even of killing them. As the Michigan Bluebird Society put it: '


  • "An immensely significant book. It is fluently written, carefully thought through, ruthlessly argued, neatly illustrated with case studies - and shockingly contrarian."—MattRidley, The Times (Book of the Week)
  • "Thoughtfully argued, full of rich examples... This engaging, provocative and important book paints a refreshingly optimistic picture of life on Earth"—TheGuardian
  • "The inevitability (and pace) of global change demands the sort of fresh thinking that is found in Inheritors of the Earth."—Science Magazine
  • "Inheritors of the Earth collects years of Thomas' field research, illuminating plant and animal species-notably one of his specialties, butterflies-flourishing all over the Earth. Thomas puts big ideas on display."—Nautilus Magazine
  • "His flowing narrative is rich in stories of his fieldwork round the world ... Thomas's vision ... aspires to something nobler, more optimistic."—New Scientist
  • "Fascinating ... Chris Thomas examines our human relationships with nature, bad and good, and sets out a more hopeful truth to current narratives and alarms ... This is a rich and timely tale, fearless too, with examples and cases drawn from ecosystems across the world."—TimesHigher Education
  • "[A] thrilling and uplifting counter to the pessimism of the Anthropocene."—BBCWildlife Magazine
  • "Chris Thomas takes the million-year view of today's human-dominated world. The result is a thoughtful, provocative, and improbably hopeful book."—Elizabeth Kolbert, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of TheSixth Extinction
  • "An immensely significant book. It is fluently written, carefully thought through, ruthlessly argued, neatly illustrated with case studies - and shockingly contrarian."—Matt Ridley, The Times (Book of the Week)
  • "His flowing narrative is rich in stories of his fieldwork round the world ... Thomas's vision ... aspires to something nobler, more optimistic."—Fred Pearce, New Scientist
  • "Fascinating ... Chris Thomas examines our human relationships with nature, bad and good, and sets out a more hopeful truth to current narratives and alarms ... This is a rich and timely tale, fearless too, with examples and cases drawn from ecosystems across the world."—Professor Jules Pretty, Times Higher Education
  • "[A] thrilling and uplifting counter to the pessimism of the Anthropocene."—Stuart Blackman, BBC Wildlife Magazine
  • "A decent and humane tale about the threat and promise of biodiversity change."—James Lovelock, author of The Revenge of Gaia and ARough Guide to the Future
  • "The most interesting / challenging / surprising thing I've read about the natural world for years."—James Rebanks, author of The Shepherd's Life
  • "A provocative book that challenges us to look positively at our human changes to the natural world and reimagine conservation in the Anthropocene."—Gaia Vince, author of Adventures in the Anthropocene
  • "Chris Thomas takes the million-year view of today's human-dominated world. The result is a thoughtful, provocative, and improbably hopeful book."—Elizabeth Kolbert, author of The Sixth Extinction and Field Notes from a Catastrophe
  • "With a perspective that stretches many epochs into the past and forward to the year One Million A.D., Thomas reframes Earth's current ecological upheaval as a time of great creation as well as great loss. Without minimizing or excusing the damage humans have done to the planet, Inheritors of the Earth opens our eyes to the splendid and fascinating ways nature is adapting and evolving to the world we have made. He urges us to take our cue from the majestic dynamism of nature and work with other species as they change and move, rather than fighting an impossible battle to freeze the planet in time. All change is not bad. I thought I was an optimist. Thomas is the real ecological optimist."—Emma Marris, author of Rambunctious Garden
  • "With Inheritors of the Earth, Chris D. Thomas issues a challenge to the conventional view of nature in decline. He urges us to embrace the environmental changes we've set in motion, daring to suggest that human activities will ultimately increase the diversity of life on Earth. A timely and provocative read."—Thor Hanson, author of The Triumph of Seeds

On Sale
Sep 5, 2017
Page Count
320 pages

Chris D. Thomas

About the Author

Chris D. Thomas is a professor of conservation biology at the University of York, UK. A prolific writer, he has published 210 scientific journal articles, twenty-nine book chapters, edited one academic book, and has written around twenty magazine and other popular articles since 2000. His works have been cited more than 26,000 times, making him one of the world’s most influential ecologists, and his research has been covered on the front pages of the Guardian and Washington Post. He was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 2012, is a long-standing fellow of the Royal Entomological Society, and received Marsh Awards for Climate Change Research in 2011 and for Conservation Biology in 2004 and the prestigious British Ecological Society President’s Medal in 2001.

Learn more about this author