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Makes do with means accepting something less satisfactory because there is no alternative. In this case, it makes less sense for me why we use this phrase, and by using but I think it accentuates the meaning of only. But I don't get the full meaning of this sentence.

Can you tell me why they used the phrase make do with? What special meaning does it have, and what is the function of the word but?

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The easier one first. "But" here means "only."

"Make do with" is part of a personification of the eastern North American ecosystem, i.e., a metaphor that regards that ecosystem as a sentient being, one that can recognize what species it contains and can compare itself to other ecosystems. The sister ecosystem in western North America might have ten such species, but the eastern ecosystem just has to get by with nine fewer.

  • +1 This is neatly explained. For example, the western half (roughly speaking) of North America hosts more than a dozen species of hummingbirds, while the eastern half has only the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird. And yet there is something misleading about using "make do" in this situation: We might make do with (inferior) flavored corn syrup when we can't afford maple syrup; but the eastern half of North America isn't settling for something inferior in its one hummingbird—it just doesn't have as many species around. This is where the personifying aspect of "make do" doesn't work all that well. – Sven Yargs Jun 21 '15 at 7:41
  • We might make do with (inferior) flavored corn syrup when we can't afford maple syrup. That sentence make more sense about make do with. thank you. – Kim Jay Jun 21 '15 at 9:35

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