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'Sex in City Plants' reveals the secrets of urban reproduction

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‘Sex in City Plants’ reveals the secrets of urban reproduction

Reviewing ‘Sex in City Plants, Animals, Fungi, and More: A Guide to Reproductive Diversity.’

Growing up in the Adirondack Mountains, I was always surrounded by nature. A vast expanse of plants, animals, and insects, the phrase “the birds and the bees” was more than just a euphemism for sex that I didn’t (and still don’t) understand. While I noticed there seemed to be a lack of annoying insects on our trips to “the city,” it never occurred to me the reason for the minimal bugs was the environment.

Sex in City Plants, Animals, Fungi, and More: A Guide to Reproductive Diversity, by Kenneth D. Frank, has opened my eyes to a world of nature I never considered. For young people living in cities, this book can be an amazing resource for learning about the hidden nature all around them. It identifies, via description and beautiful photographs, an interesting variety of the flora and fauna commonly found in urban environments.  Even if you aren’t trying to learn how creatures reproduce, there’s still much to be gleaned.

'Sex in City Plants' reveals the secrets of urban reproduction

Most people have some idea of how plants reproduce — pollinators go from flower to flower, picking up pollen from one and leaving it at another, then seeds form and new plants grow from the seeds. How fascinating to learn that it may not be as simple as that, or it could even be less involved! Without overcomplicating the information with unnecessarily technical jargon, Sex in City Plants explains the many ways plants perpetuate their existence. From self-pollination, to cloning, to mid-season sex changes, to seed propagation, plant reproduction within the constraints of a city environment is vastly more interesting than you might think.

Sex in City Plants outlines how insects, arachnids, and other creatures face the unique challenges caused by urban habitats. Nocturnal species like moths and fireflies find man-made light very detrimental, though spiders thrive in the same situations and have even been found working together in cities to capture prey. Birds and frogs have had to adapt to all the sound that fills urban environments for their mating calls to be heard through the din, and social isolation has led one aphid species to reproduce in female-only colonies. Their eggs are fertilized without any male interaction.

While full of engaging knowledge, Sex in City Plants is not without a few flaws. In my opinion it could have been organized differently. It might be logical to sort information by the type of life (plants, insects, mammals, etc.), but it makes some of the early cross references to information later in the book a bit confusing and difficult to follow. I was also caught off guard when salamanders were mentioned with invertebrates rather than amphibians, and pill bugs were mentioned with fungi.

The glossary is an excellent addition, but the words listed there should be in bold print for reference purposes. The fungi section feels like a missed opportunity, as there’s a large variety of urban fungal species that produce in both sexual and asexual ways. Images and information about molds and other fungi not mentioned in this portion of Sex in City Plants are readily available, and they’re just as interesting as the rest of the information in this book.

Sex in City Plants, umbrella liverwort

Sex in City Plants, Animals, Fungi, and More: A Guide to Reproductive Diversity will inspire young and old minds alike. It gives enough information to spark interest and cause the curious to ask even more questions. This book opens up ideas about not only plants, animals, insects, and fungi, but also about sexual biology in other species, including humans. It may lead to a desire to know more about how human activity and the expansion of cities will continue to affect the creatures that live within them.

AIPT Science is co-presented by AIPT and the New York City Skeptics.


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