Publisher: Cambridge University Press Date of Publication: 2005
Price: ISBN: 0 521 60987 9
Pages: xiv + 411 Format: Paperback

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Target Readership Undergraduate For help with criteria, click here


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1 - Developing new perspectives from advances in soil biodiversity research; 2 - The habitat of soil microbes; 3 - Twenty years of molecular analysis of bacterial communities in soils and what have we learned about function?; 4 - Carbon as a substrate for soil organisms; 5 - The use of Pseudomonas fluorescens populations to study the causes and consequences of microbial diversity; 6 - Patterns and determinants of soil biological diversity; 7 - How plant communities influence decomposer communities; 8 - The balance between productivity and food web structure in soil ecosystems; 9 - Rhizosphere carbon flow: a driver of soil microbial activity?; 10 - Microbial community composition and soil nitrogen cycling: is there really a connection?; 11 - Biodiversity of saphrotrophic fungi in relation to their function: do fungi obey the rules; 13 - Trophic structure and functional redundancy in soil communities; 14 - Plant-soil feedback and soil biodiversity affect the composition of plant communities; 15 - Response of the soil bacterial community to perturbation; 16 - Soil biodiversity in rapidly changing tropical landscapes: scaling down and scaling up; 17 - Restoration ecology and the role of soil biodiversity; 18 - Soil biodiversity: stress and change in grasslands under restoration succession; 19 - Soil biodiversity, nature conservation and sustainability; 20 - Underview: origins and consequences of below-ground biodiversity.



This volume is part of the British Ecological Society's 'Ecological Reviews' series. It started as a symposium in 2003 and these are the key papers from that meeting. The aim was to review the latest evidence coming from soil research into the area of soil biodiversity and functioning. As such, this area is relatively new due in no small part, as the preface notes, to the 'black box' nature of soil and the lack of methodologies to study it. This text is aimed at undergraduates/graduates in distinction to another current text by one of the editors aimed at beginners (reviewed here).

The book is divided into 6 parts. The first part, consisting solely of the introduction, outlines the development of soil biodiversity research. It is clear that research methods have limited the amount of work and that, as their '10 tenets' demonstrate, there are conceptual differences to contend with as well. These tenets alone make interesting reading because they highlight the gulf that can exist between above- and below-ground ecologists. Part two covers the soil environment. The first contribution looks at the way in which the abiotic environment can influence microbial activity and in particular, the role of soil moisture. Chapter three examines the role of bacteria in soils. It is very clear that we are nowhere near understanding the situation despite research advances (a common theme in the book). It seems that many bacteria have no significant function in soils so this raises a number of issues like ecological redundancy which are far from being answered. Finally, there's a look at the role of soil carbon in the process. Part two deals with patterns of diversity and the forces driving them. One way of examining forces is to reduce the complexity of the system. Chapter five uses laboratory-controlled systems to find out how bacteria interact. When you do get back to the soil its heterogeneity is both a problem for study and a possible solution to causes. Perhaps the differences in soil are what give it the diversity? We must also allow for the role of above-ground vegetation to exert an considerable influence as chapter seven posits. It's not just the above-ground details that are significant. There's also the balance between soil productivity and soil food web to consider also. Finally in this section there's an outline of the role of the rhizosphere in nutrient cycling as part of diversity functioning. Part three looks at the consequences of diversity. The first area to be examined is the nitrogen cycle where traditional views of fixation etc. are giving way to a more complex picture. The next two chapters turn to fungi - a very diverse range of organisms whose functioning is questioned. It seems that the role they play is complex but that lack of knowledge, even of basic taxonomy, is holding back our understanding. Even when we see diversity we may be at a loss to explain it. In one review, it's argued that the omnivorous nature of the species allows co-existence whereas in more conventional food webs this wouldn't happen. Just as this is seen as being a way forward, studies on plant-soil links show that complexity is not easily explained with the suggestion that the scale of the process might be important. Finally, soils are dynamic. They can be subject to a range of perturbations both singular and seasonal both of which might affect the soil system. Part five considers how this information might be applied. The first call here is for a wider understanding. Pointing out that most work is in temperate areas there is a call to explore the conditions in tropical areas especially with the need to conserve rainforests etc. Biodiversity studies can also play a major part in restoration ecology but this again needs more work a point echoed in other research in this area.

There is much to commend in this text. It is clearly aimed at the senior undergraduate/graduate and highlights the knowledge we have at the moment in function-biodiversity research. If there are any common threads to be drawn here it must be the complexity of the soil coupled with the paucity of research and understanding. It is clear that there are a large number of areas to be covered. This situation is rare in modern ecology and demands that we focus more in our work on this area because it may well hold the key to greater understanding of ecosystem process.


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