Life on Earth

An Encyclopedia of Biodiversity, Ecology, and Evolution

by Niles Eldredge, Editor


The showdown is upon us. On one side, three billion years of evolution, tens of millions of species, an extraordinarily complex and diverse ecosystem. On the other, over six billion people, nearly 600 million cars, an unprecedented human assault on the environment. The stakes could not be higher—for the Earth and for us.

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Cover image for Life on Earth

December 2002


Pages 793
Volumes 2
Size 7x10
Topics Environment/General
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    Hardcover: £147.00/174,00€/A$255.00

An examination of nature's extraordinary biological diversity and the human activities that threaten it.

Life on Earth: An Encyclopedia of Biodiversity, Ecology, and Evolution tackles the critical issue for humanity in the 21st century—our ever more menacing impact on the environment. This two-volume, illustrated set, edited by American Museum of Natural History curator Niles Eldredge, begins with biodiversity, the complex planetary web of life that has emerged through three billion years of evolution. How does it work? And why is its continued health critical to the planet and to ourselves?

More than 50 top scholars examine every form of life from amoebae to elephants, from plankton to whales. But Life on Earth is more than a catalog of species. An A–Z survey explores the myriad ways humanity is diminishing that biodiversity, from industrialization to natural habitat destruction, from overpopulation in the developing world to an unsustainable consumer lifestyle in the West. Life on Earth is the essential reference work for anyone curious about our planet's extraordinary diversity of life and the unprecedented threats it faces.


  • 200+ A–Z detailed entries on Earth's ecosystems, major groups of organisms, threats to biodiversity, and academic disciplines related to the study of biodiversity
  • Contributions from 50 recognized authorities from the fields of anthropology, biology, botany, earth science, ecology, evolution, and more
  • 150 photographs of key people, animals, and organisms; line drawings; tables, charts, and graphs including the major families of birds, the effects of agricultural intensity on biodiversity, and the number of years needed to add each billion to the world's population
  • Four major overview essays explaining what biodiversity is, why it is important, how it is threatened, and the Sixth Global Extinction


  • Provides an up to date survey of the world's ecosystems
  • Edited by a noted scholar, written by authoritative contributors, many from the nation's leading natural history museum
  • Covers all plant and animal life on the planet, with a special concern for the imminent extinction of many species
  • Surveys the latest data on human population growth, its causes, and ways to slow it down
Author Info

Niles Eldredge is chair of the Committee on Evolutionary Processes and curator of the Division of Paleontology at the American Museum of Natural History. He is the author of numerous works on biodiversity and evolution, including Life in the Balance: Humanity and the Biodiversity Crisis and The Triumph of Evolution . . . and the Failure of Creationism.



"[W]ill appeal to high-school and beginning college students, especially those writing position papers."—Booklist

"This two volume set takes an original look at biodiversity and ecology by focusing on how humans contribute, or more accurately do not contribute, to the Earth's delicate balance . . . This volume provides a wealth of information on the effects of human behavior on the ecosystem."—American Reference Books Annual

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