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Campbell Biology in Focus


Author: Lisa A. Urry

Publisher: Benjamin Cummings


Publish Date: January 18, 2013

ISBN-10: 321813804

Pages: 1080

File Type: PDF

Language: English

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Book Preface

Inquiring About Life

The brilliant white sand dunes and sparse clumps of beach grass along the Florida seashore afford little cover for the beach mice that live there. However, a beach mouse’s light, dappled fur acts as camouflage, allowing the mouse to blend into its surroundings (Figure 1.1). Although mice of the same species (oldfield mice, Peromyscus polionotus) also inhabit nearby inland areas, the inland mice are much darker in color, matching the darker soil and vegetation where they live (Figure 1.2). This close match of each mouse to its environment is vital for survival, since hawks, herons, and other sharp-eyed predators periodically scan the landscape for food. How has the color of each mouse come to be so well matched, or adapted, to the local background?

An organism’s adaptations to its environment, such as camouflage that helps protect it from predators, are the result of evolution, the process of change that has transformed life from its beginnings to the astounding array of organisms today. Evolution is the fundamental principle of biology and the core theme of this book.

Although biologists know a great deal about life on Earth, many mysteries remain. The question of how the mice’s coats have come to match the colors of their habitats is just one example. Posing questions about the living world and seeking answers through scientific inquiry are the central activities of biology, the scientific study of life. Biologists’ questions can be ambitious. They may ask how a single tiny cell becomes a tree or a dog, how the human mind works, or how the different forms of life in a forest interact. When questions occur to you as you observe the living world, you are already thinking like a biologist.

How do biologists make sense of life’s diversity and complexity? This opening chapter sets up a framework for answering this question. The first part of the chapter provides a panoramic view of the biological “landscape,” organized around a set of unifying themes. We’ll then focus on biology’s core theme, evolution. Finally, we’ll examine the process of scientific inquiry—how scientists ask and attempt to answer questions about the natural world.

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