Goblins, orcs and Uruk Hai: taxonomy and Tolkien

Tolkien knew the value of naming. More than that, he knew the value of understanding and labeling diversity. Tolkien was not satisfied with simply mentioning pipeweed, he needed to mention several varieties (Longbottom Leaf, Old Toby, Southern Star), each with its own properties. I have commented on the subspecies of hobbits that…

Habitat invasion in the Southern Alps: why no forest-orcs in Middle-earth?

I guess I was always destined to spend my life in evolution and ecology. I distinctly remember from an early age, as I read through The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, worrying about the orcs. Not whether they are scary and nasty, that was a given, but rather how they…

Spatial variation, Ithilien and the Old Forest

A strength of Tolkien was that he put so much effort into creating an amazingly detailed secondary world. He did this by adding as much realism, often ecological, as he could to the mix. Despite the presence of dragons, trolls and hobbits there is an overwhelming feeling that Middle-earth is a…

Concerning Hobbit subspecies: Tolkien and the taxonomy of damselflies

Tolkien was a taxonomist. At least, he had thoughts like that of a taxonomist. A taxonomist is someone who thinks about taxa, about how to make sensible groups out of individuals, especially about what constitutes a species. Without taxonomy the world is just a place full of individuals and biology…

Gollum and the carpet beetles: One man’s meat is another man’s poison

When it comes to pest species we spend a lot of time thinking about how they forage. Usually pest species cause most of their problems through what they eat. This generates a lot of research on either finding out what makes them stop eating something (to protect what they are eating)…

No prisoners! A new toxin for NZ pest mammal control

On my recent re-read of The Lord of the Rings I was struck by events that have concerned me since I read LotR as a kid, the genocidal nature of Tolkien. At the end of the major battles; Helm’s Deep, the Pelennor Fields  and at the Black Gate (and even the…

Concerning hobbits and NZ grass grub

   I’ve suggested before that The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien is a great way to prepare a young person for a career in biogeography. I would go further and suggest that The Lord of the Rings is a great way to prepare someone for ecology and evolution…

Misty Mountains grazed: the reality of Lord-of-the-Rings scenery

Before I came to New Zealand from the US, I had thought that the footage from the Lord of the Rings of rolling green hills and idyllic countryside represented how lush and natural New Zealand was. I discovered when I came here that those rolling green hills are mostly invasive,…

Tolkien made me an evolutionary biologist

I’ve been an evolutionary biologist for over two decades now and I have been reflecting recently on how I came to join this profession. I started re-reading Stephen Jay Gould’s Ever since Darwin, Goulds first collection, and have to acknowledge that Gould’s amazing essays played a role as an undergraduate. Darwin’s…