Photo: The Great Lakes

Comprehensive, engaging and timely, The Great Lakes: A Natural History of a Changing Region is an exploration and a celebration of one of the most important ecological systems on Earth.

Five immense lakes — remembered by school children with the mnemonic "HOMES," for Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie and Superior — lie at the heart of North America. They cover an area of nearly 245,000 square kilometres (95,000 square miles) and hold more than 23,000 cubic kilometres (5,500 cubic miles of water). Together they comprise the world's largest freshwater system, containing 95 percent of the continent's fresh water — and one-fifth of the planet's total supply.

The Great Lakes' drainage basin — the land through which rivers flow as they empty into the lakes — is more than a region; it is almost a nation in itself. Over 764,000 square kilometres (295,000 square miles) in area, including the lakes, it is home to 40 million people and the hub of industry and agriculture in North America. The immense richness of its mineral deposits and natural resources — the vast forests, the tumbling rivers, the lakes teeming with 170 species of fish, the skies alive with 300 species of birds — have attracted and sustained human and wildlife populations for more than 10,000 years. The waterways have served as transportation routes for travel and trade, fishing grounds for the world's most important inland fishery, resting spots for billions of migrating birds, sources of water for drinking and irrigation, and handy sequestors of poisonous wastes. Ever since French explorer Samuel de Champlain dipped his hand into Lake Huron and first tasted what he called "La mer douce" — the freshwater sea — the Great Lakes have been admired, feared, exploited, and renewed. The Great Lakes book begins with an account of the geological formation of the lakes — at roughly 10,000 years old, the system is young and still in transition — and an overview of the lakes' role in relatively recent human history. The lakes basin is defined and explored by its three component forest ecosystems: the Boreal Forest, the Great Lakes/St Lawrence Forest and the Carolinian Forest. Representative plant, bird and animal species associated with each are profiled, along with notable physical, climatic, and environmental features.

The lakes themselves have distinct personalities, yet because of their size, all exhibit the huge waves and tides normally associated with oceans. Even the earth's rotation affects their water levels. They are true "inland seas": it's estimated that a single drop of water entering Lake Superior today would take some 320 years to flow through all five lakes into the St Lawrence River. The dynamics of lake water, the role of wetlands, and the factors affecting water quality provide background to profiles of the significant fish species, whether native, introduced, or invasive. The latter include sea lampreys, zebra mussels, and round gobies and have vastly altered the traditional food web in all five lakes. Furthermore, industrial pollutants, from "legacy" contaminants such as DDT, PCBs and dioxins, to the more modern chemicals being brought into the lakes in the bilges of sea-going freighters, are creating new threats to the continued health of a continental life-sustaining resource.

The Great Lakes: A Natural History of a Changing Region will be the most authoritative, complete and accessible book to date about the biology and ecology of this vital, ever-changing terrain. Written by one of Canada's best-known science and nature writers, it is intended not only for those who live in the Great Lakes region, but for anyone captivated by the splendor of the natural world and sensitive to the challenges of its preservation. It is both a first-hand tribute and an essential guide to a fascinating ecosystem in eternal flux.

Wayne Grady is one of Canada's foremost popular science writers and the winner of three Science in Society awards from the Canadian Science Writers Association. His previously published books recounted such diverse adventures as hunting dinosaurs in the Gobi Desert, investigating global warming at the North Pole, and discovering the wild in an urban metropolis. In 2004 he collaborated with acclaimed geneticist and environmentalist David Suzuki on Tree: A Life Story, a bestseller in Canada now in its third printing. His most recent book is Bringing Back the Dodo (2006), an expansion of his natural science columns for Explore magazine. In addition to his acclaimed work in science and nature fields, he has received the Governor General's Award for English Translation, several National Magazine Awards, and the Brascan Award for Food Writing. He is married to the writer Merilyn Simonds and lives near Kingston, Ontario.

Advisory Panel as of March 28, 2007 Dr. John M. Cassselman, Senior Scientist, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, Aquatic Resources and Development, Adjunct Professor of Biology, Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario. Dr. Karen Landman, School of Environmental Design and Rural Development, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario. David O'Toole, Director, Urban and Rural Infrastructure Policy, Ontario Ministry of Transportation, Ontario Representative, Great Lakes Commission, Toronto, Ontario. Dave Dempsey, Biodiversity Project, Madison, Wisconsin. Dr. Linda Campbell, Department of Biology, Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario. Dr. Adrian Forsyth, Research Associate, Smithsonian Institution, Vice-President, Programs, Blue Moon Fund, Washington, D.C. Ron Reid, Executive Director The Couchiching Conservancy Orillia, Ontario

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