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Muskoxen (Ovibos moschatus) on the North Slope of Alaska. (Photo: Alex Huryn)

Land of Extremes Is Colorful Guide to Natural History of the Arctic Tundra

John Hobbie and Alex Huryn, long-time principal investigators on the Arctic Long Term Ecological Research project at Toolik Lake, Alaska, have just finished a book about the natural history of the North Slope of Alaska, the only Arctic tundra in the U. S. The book, Land of Extremes, A Natural History of the Arctic North Slope of Alaska, will be published this September by the University of Alaska Press.

The idea for the book came up in the dining hall at Toolik. Said Hobbie, "I was sitting at the dinner table with Alex, and was struck by the diversity of the expertise there. Scientists who were world experts on birds, mammals, microbes, plants, geology and so on. What an opportunity to bring together all that knowledge about one small region of the Earth - and a very interesting region it is too."

The first section is devoted to climate, geology, landforms, and ecology; the second provides a guide to the identification and natural history of the common animals and plants and a primer on the human prehistory of the region from the Pleistocene through the mid-twentieth century. The appendix provides the framework for a tour of the natural history features along the Dalton Highway, the road that runs from the Brooks Range to Prudhoe Bay and the Arctic Ocean.

John Hobbie, currently senior scholar the Ecosystems Center, was instrumental in setting up Toolik as a research station in the mid 1970s. He has been going to the North Slope, in fact, since he began conducting his doctoral research in the late 1950s. Like Hobbie, Alex Huryn, professor at the University of Alabama, has carried out research in the Arctic year-round. "Alex is an excellent naturalist, and provided hundreds of color illustrations for the book," said Hobbie.