Book Review
The Rescue Effect:

The Key to Saving Life on Earth

by Michael Mehta Webster, Ph.D.
The future is still bright but don't let that turn you away!

After a lifetime of work in ecology, biodiversity conservation and philanthropy across the globe, zoologist and professor Michael Mehta Webster shares with us his first book, The Rescue Effect: The Key to Saving Life on Earth.

It was a great pleasure to read this book by my former mentor and colleague. It only took me three days to finish! We met in the Bay Area over a decade ago while I was working in wildlife conservation and human rights at nonprofits in Rwanda and the Amazon.

I asked Michael if he coined the term "The Rescue Effect" and he informed me no and that the term was coined in the 1970's. At that time it was used to describe demographic rescue and overtime people stopped using it and just called the phenomenon 'demographic rescue'. Here Michael clearly and thoroughly uses his life's work in research and programmatic field work using real life cases that you probably haven't heard of to describe several types of "rescue effects" including demographic, genetics, evolutionary and phenotypic. I myself was very pleased to have had the privilege to visit and work with some the extraordinary colleagues mentioned in the book, specifically his case study in Honduras while he was working as the CEO of Coral Reef Alliance. See below our first One Health Productions film on the small locally launched and run Roatan Marine Park. I highly recommend checking them out as both Michael and myself can vouch for the remarkable staff and work. They also serve as a great positive example on community-based conservation that has and is succeeding. After our visit in 2015 our colleagues at Mongabay published their work here so that their community-based model could be seen and replicated across the globe in various types of ecosystems:

Photographs by Michael Mehta Webster, East Africa
Photograph:s by Michael Mehta Webster, India
Photographs by Michael Mehta Webster, Cozumel, Carribean
"An optimistic view…Socially conscious readers wanting to avoid doomsday environmental messaging will likely appreciate this one." —Library Journal

Photograph by Allison Carden Hanes
Parque Nacional Jeanette Kawas, Honduras
Photographs by Allison Carden Hanes, Roatan, Honduras
Since 2005, RMP has protected Roatan's reefs and ecosystems. RMP is a community based, nonprofit organization dedicated to the conservation of Roatan's protected marine and coastal area including all of its flora, fauna, physical and biological characteristics and phenomena, and historical and cultural resources. Their efforts are accomplished through a broad range of programs and resources, none of which would be possible without the support of the local community, partners, and donors. RMP's mission is to inspire, educate, and empower communities and visitors to conserve and protect marine environments for the benefit of all. Their vision is to promote healthy marine environments on the Bay Islands and thriving communities now and into the future.
Roatan Marine Park
Roatán, Honduras
"The Rescue Effect is an antidote to the paralyzing sense of helplessness that can overwhelm us when we face up to the stark realities of the interlinked biodiversity and climate crises. It offers a hopeful reminder of nature's powerful capacity to adapt, but also forces us to take ownership of the increasingly uncomfortable choices we may need to make as we continue to push nature toward the limits of what it can do on its own." —Aileen Lee, chief program officer, Environmental Conservation, at the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation

I always say we need nature but it doesn't need us. I firmly believe it. It doesn't make me feel better about the world's social or environmental state but reading The Rescue Effect was soothing even to a wildlife conservationist. I really appreciated that Michael highlighted lesser known and some would say less "charismatic" species as well as perhaps less famous scientists and institutions making giant strides for much needed underdogs. We often see the same gorgeous megafauna case studies given as examples in conservation but really must expand our mind and analysis and to all species. If we don't we are losing valuable knowledge. It was also wonderful to listen to his chapter including our colleagues at the Mesoamerican Reef Fund (MAR FUND) and Roatan Marine Park. I also really enjoyed all the sections on phenotypic effect and Michael provides great insights and unique points of views to greatly debated conservation topics including ethical issues we face without forgetting to mention our race against climate change. He has you think about all this in a healthy pragmatic sense without forcing upon the reader his viewpoints. He tries to remain unbiased which is very hard for anyone let alone scientists. He knows that there is no correct action just judgement from layers of stakeholders and he always includes locals without question into this program work and analysis of "The Rescue Effect." I really enjoyed this read, needed a refresher since I have been in the film world quite a while now and he left me as usual humble to the fact that I really have a lot to keep learning about in conservation. Thank you Michael for your unwavering thoughtfulness in all you do and for always teaching me with your decades of research, hands or work and wisdom! I recommend this book to anyone that needs a review or baseline 101 in wildlife conservation, cares about what is happening to species across the globe and just needs to hear some positive news from nature itself.

Book Review by wildlife conservationist and filmmaker, Allison Carden Hanes
Author Biography

Michael Mehta Webster is a Professor of Practice in the Department of Environmental Studies. He earned a Ph.D. in Zoology at Oregon State University, and a B.S. in Zoology from the University of Wisconsin.

Webster is an expert in ecology, biodiversity conservation, natural resource management, and philanthropy. His research focusses on how to promote the adaptation of species and ecosystems to ongoing environmental change. Much of his recent work has centered on reef-building corals, which are struggling to adjust to warming ocean temperatures and a host of other environmental changes. Webster is also the author of the forthcoming book, The Rescue Effect: The Key to Saving Life on Earth, which describes nature's innate ability to persist during environmental change and the growing set of tools that people can apply to facilitate adaptation.

Prior to joining NYU, Webster led efforts to improve the management and conservation of coral reefs as the Executive Director of the Coral Reef Alliance, and of wild Pacific salmon as a Program Officer at the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. He has also held positions as a Visiting Research Scientist at NYU, a Visiting Professor of Practice at Cornell University, and a Postdoctoral Researcher at Oregon State University.

Michael Mehta Webster
Professor of Practice, Environmental Studies
Find Michael's book here:

As climate change continues to intensify, the outlook for life on Earth often seems bleak. Yet hope for the future can be found in the "rescue effect," which is nature's innate ability to help organisms persist during hard times. Like a thermostat starting the air conditioning when a room gets too warm, the rescue effect automatically kicks in when organisms are stressed or declining.

In The Rescue Effect, Michael Mehta Webster reveals the science behind nature's inherent resilience, through compelling stories of species that are adapting to the changing world—including tigers in the jungles of India, cichlid fish in the great lakes of Africa, and corals in the Caribbean. In some cases, like the mountain pygmy-possum in the snowy mountains of southeast Australia, we risk losing species without intensive help from people. As observers to—and the cause of—species declines, we must choose whether and how to help, while navigating challenging questions about emerging technologies and the ethics of conservation actions.

Ultimately, Webster argues that there are good reasons to expect a bright future, because everywhere we look, we can see evidence that nature can rescue many species from extinction; and when nature alone is not up to the task, we can help. Combining rigorous research with gripping storytelling, The Rescue Effect provides the cautious optimism we need to help save life on Earth.
Follow Michael Mehta Webster on Twitter @RescueEffects and reach out to him directly at