Books : reviews

Tijs Goldschmidt.
Darwin's Dreampond: drama in Lake Victoria.
MIT Press. 1996

Dazzling in their variety of sizes, shapes, and colors, the cichlids (small perch-like fishes) of Lake Victoria, like the finches of the Galapagos Islands and Hawaii’s Honeycreepers, have been geographically isolated long enough to undergo unusually broad speciation. These small fish form a species flock—closely related species that have descended from a common ancestor and radiated, or fanned, into different specializations—that is the most spectacular in the world, fascinating anatomists, ecologists, ethologists, and evolutionary biologists alike. The process of speciation was still under way until just recently, when the introduction of the large, predatory Nile perch so disrupted the lake’s intricate ecosystem that the glorious spectrum of cichlids has almost vanished.

Darwin’s Dreampond tells the evolutionary story of the extraordinary “furu” and the battlefield leading to extinction. Tijs Goldschmidt skillfully blends a masterful discussion of the principles of neo-Darwinian evolution and speciation with a history of Lake Victoria’s ecosystem. The science unfolds in the context of the engaging first-person narrative of Goldschmidt’s adventures and misadventures as a field researcher.

Too much “engaging first-person narrative”, not enough cichlids and evolution.