A Vivid, Novel Portrait of the Bizarre Ecosystem of Los Angeles Calls on Angelenos to Support the City’s Wildlife

Craig Stanford reveals the interconnectedness of LA’s unlikely mosaic of plant and animal life, both native and introduced, and the actions that we can take now to support its abundant biodiversity.

ON-SALE: MAY 28, 2024

BERKELEY, CALIF. — Los Angeles boasts one of the busiest biospheres in the world. The daily jostling of millions of people across a city brimming with wildlife, both native and new to the region, make the LA basin one giant jigsaw puzzle of an ecosystem. While some species flourish and others flounder, the rapid sprawl of human settlement raises pressing questions about how to support the immense and ever-shifting biodiversity of the metropolis and surrounding lands. In Unnatural Habitat: The Native and Exotic Wildlife of Los Angeles biologist and anthropologist Craig Stanford explores how flora and fauna from the world-over converge and survive in this unfurling urban landscape.

“The natural Southern California landscape is not the one in which most suburban Angelenos live,” says Stanford, “Most of us inhabit a verdant but ecologically hollow subtropical system”—one in which natural interactions that typically compose a healthy ecosystem are largely gone. A verdant, Edenic tableau of nonnative palm trees, parrots, and peacocks parade across an engineered oasis that defies the region’s naturally semi-arid climate. Species that formerly thrived in these environs—indigenous mountain lions, monarch butterflies, and the once-mighty oak—dwindle in number as introduced species—feral cats, rats, and fountain grasses—proliferate and prosper.

Blending natural and human history with a scientist’s insight, Stanford—“a talented and fluid writer as well as an accomplished researcher” (writes the Wall Street Journal)—reveals the unlikely mosaic that has emerged in Los Angeles, and how we can begin to stack the deck back in favor of diverse, robust, and sustainable habitats. From the sky island ecosystems atop LA’s majestic mountain ranges to the bucolic green lawns of suburbia, he interrogates the interconnectedness of place, people, and wildlife in Southern California, always with an eye to the question: What sort of future do we wish to build? And how do we create that future, starting in our own backyard?

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Craig Stanford is a biologist and anthropologist at the University of Southern California. He is known for his long-term field research on wild chimpanzees in East Africa, and for his many field studies of highly endangered turtles and tortoises in Asia and Latin America. He has published nearly twenty books and hundreds of articles about animal behavior, human origins, and environmental issues. Stanford is a long-time resident of the Pasadena area in Southern California.