Dr. Sean B. Carroll wrote the book The Serengeti Rules, on which the new NATURE film is based. Here, Dr. Carroll shares insights into what inspired him to tell this story and what he hopes readers (and viewers) will take away from it.
Q: Your book is called The Serengeti Rules. What are those rules?
These are ecological rules that regulate the numbers and kinds of animals and plants in a given place. I have called these the “Serengeti Rules” because that is one place where they have been worked out and they determine, for example, how many lions, or buffalo, or elephants live on an African savanna. But these rules apply all over the globe, in oceans, rivers, and lakes, as well as on land.
Q: The scientists portrayed in The Serengeti Rules are admirable, sometimes heroic figures. Why did you choose to organize the book around their stories?
A: I am a firm believer in the power of stories. We learn better from stories because they help us connect series of events and to understand cause and effect in the world. And we are more engaged when human characters are central to a story. Science is far more enjoyable, understandable, and memorable when we follow scientists all over the world and share in their struggles and triumphs.
Q: As you describe in several chapters, there have been some encouraging successes in restoring species and habitats.
A: Yes, and I thought it was very important to tell those stories, to show that even war-torn and devastated places like Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique could rebound given time, protection, and the efforts of just a small band of extraordinarily dedicated people.
Q: You visited Gorongosa in the course of writing [The Serengeti Rules]. What was that experience like?
A: Life-changing. The people behind the Gorongosa Restoration Project are so inspiring, and the magnitude of the recovery in just ten years is astounding and so encouraging. If Gorongosa can be rescued from utter disaster, we should all take heart that we can restore other places and species. We are a clever species – we have made huge strides against human disease in a short time span. We need the same sort of drive and sense of urgency applied to the health of the planet we depend on.
Q: What do you hope students, in particular, will take away from The Serengeti Rules?
A: First, I hope that they feel inspired by the stories of some exceptional people who tackled and solved great mysteries. Second, that they feel enriched with fresh insights into the wonders of life at different scales. Third, that they feel more hopeful for the future – that there is time to change the road we’re on.
* Excerpted from THE SERENGETI RULES: The Quest to Discover How Life Works and Why It Matters – With a new Q&A with the author by Sean B. Carroll. Copyright © 2017 by Sean B. Carroll. Published by Princeton University Press. Reprinted by permission.