Why Size Matters: From Bacteria to Blue Whales

Why Size Matters: From Bacteria to Blue Whales

John Tyler Bonner

Language: English

Pages: 176

ISBN: 0691128502

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


John Tyler Bonner, one of our most distinguished and creative biologists, here offers a completely new perspective on the role of size in biology. In his hallmark friendly style, he explores the universal impact of being the right size. By examining stories ranging from Alice in Wonderland to Gulliver's Travels, he shows that humans have always been fascinated by things big and small. Why then does size always reside on the fringes of science and never on the center stage? Why do biologists and others ponder size only when studying something else--running speed, life span, or metabolism?

Why Size Matters, a pioneering book of big ideas in a compact size, gives size its due by presenting a profound yet lucid overview of what we know about its role in the living world. Bonner argues that size really does matter--that it is the supreme and universal determinant of what any organism can be and do. For example, because tiny creatures are subject primarily to forces of cohesion and larger beasts to gravity, a fly can easily walk up a wall, something we humans cannot even begin to imagine doing.

Bonner introduces us to size through the giants and dwarfs of human, animal, and plant history and then explores questions including the physics of size as it affects biology, the evolution of size over geological time, and the role of size in the function and longevity of living things.

As this elegantly written book shows, size affects life in its every aspect. It is a universal frame from which nothing escapes.

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acid-free paper. ∞ Printed in the United States of America 7 9 10 8 6 for Slawa CONTENTS Preface 1 Introduction 2 The Human View of Size 3 The Physics of Size 4 The Evolution of Size 5 Size and the Division of Labor 6 Size and Time 7 Envoi Notes Index One can live in the shadow of an idea without grasping it. —Elizabeth Bowen PREFACE Our interest in the size of things is entrenched in the human psyche. It reveals itself in literature from Gulliver’s Travels,

ant colony where different castes perform different labors, one removes one of the castes, then some of the workers from other castes will take over the tasks that they never performed previously. In other words, they show a behavioral flexibility; in a way, this could be considered an example of minor problem solving. By being flexible they see to it that all functions, all the labors, required for the welfare of the whole colony are carried out, despite the loss of one of the castes. From this

are material objects. In correlation with their size, they come in many shapes and have different physiologies, degrees of internal complexity, generation times, life spans, speeds, and frequencies to their songs. A beast’s size is like a shadow: it has no substance. It is simply a statement of how much matter makes up a particular living entity. What is remarkable is that although size is no more than a shadow, no more than a description, a property, it nevertheless exerts enormous power over

insight. The size rules that have been laid out show that there is a connection between strength, surface activities, division of labor, and all activities that involve rates of processes such as metabolism, generation times, longevity, speed of locomotion, and even the abundance of organisms in nature. What connects them all is size. A change in weight will either require, or be correlated with, a change in strength, in surfaces, in the division of labor, in all the time-related rate processes,

12: 153–164 (1998). 16. Limoges, C. Milne-Edwards, Darwin, Durkheim, and the division of labor: a case study in the reciprocal conceptual exchanges between the social and the natural sciences. In The Natural and the Social Sciences, ed. I. B. Cohen. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1940. 17. Bell, G., and A. O. Mooers. Size and complexity among multicellular organisms. Biological Journal of the Linnaean Society 60: 345–363 (1997). 18. Kirk, D. Volvox. Cambridge, U. K.: Cambridge University Press,

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