Lessons from the great egret: Cosmopolitan species as environmental guides

Celia Lewis (2003)

This dissertation is an experiment in environmental learning. The cosmopolitan species, the great egret ( Egretta alba ), is used as a guide to learning about local environmental history and local ecology in four places: Long Island Sound, USA; Delaware Bay, USA; Neusiedler See, Austria; and the Hunter River Valley in New South Wales, Australia. It is also used as a guide to the development of a cosmopolitan environmental perspective. The development of this broad perspective is based on the thesis that knowledge of the ecology of species mobility and cosmopolitanism may bring to light ecological connections within and between places, and that human migration and cultural mobility are also part of the ecological history of the environment. The concept of species guides is reviewed in nature literature, including examples from the works of Richard Nelson, Robert Michael Pyle, Terry Tempest Williams, Scott Weidensaul, and Peter Matthiessen. The author visits egret colonies, interviews biologists working at these sites, and develops narratives about the environmental history and the cultural history of each site, and the connections between egrets and humans in those places. Parallels are drawn between the migrant and cosmopolitan nature of great egrets and other species, and of the human species, and how recognition of these similarities can lead to a cosmopolitan environmental perspective.