Publisher: Blackwell Date of Publication: 2005
Price: £ 32.95 ISBN: 1 4051 1898 9
Pages: xi + 428 Format: Hardcover

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1 - Introduction to biogeography; 2 - A history of biogeography; 3 - Patterns of biodiversity; 4 - Patterns of distribution; 5 - Communities and ecosystems; 6 - The source of novelty; 7 - Life, death and evolution on islands; 8 - Living in the past; 9 - The geography of life today; 10 - Ice and change; 11 - Transforming the planet; 12 - Drawing lines in the water; 13 - Interpreting the past 1: molecular and isotopic biogeography; 14 - Interpreting the past 2: principles and practice; 15 - Foretelling the future.



Any text making it through the review process to 7 editions must be one of the stronger candidates in the field. That it's more universally-focussed than some of its North American counterparts is also a bonus. However, as the authors note, there's been a lot of change in the 35 years since the first edition (including increased competition) and so apart from the material contained one also needs to consider how it stands up to the competition.

The first chapter is a very brief introduction to the nature of biogeography and some of the questions it seeks to answer. There's also the opportunity of an overview of the book. The real work starts in chapter two with a novel approach - an outline of the development of the subject. This area is often neglected and, as the authors correctly assert, it's one area that beginners need to be aware of. Subject development rarely just happens. There are the personalities, problems and prospects that shape the outcome. What we are given here is much more of this shaping than a comprehensive history but it does the job of guiding the beginner in the main paradigms of biogeography. Chapter two looks at the distribution (and 'density' - hotspots) of biodiversity. The focus is on more modern distributions rather than the wider geological timescale. Chapter four tries to answer the question of why certain species are in any given location i.e. distribution. Rather than take an overview, here we are given a series of examples which illustrate the whole. This is scaled up in chapter five when the focus is on community level responses. So far much of the work has looked at the spatial pattern of life. Chapter six describes the biological pattern by dealing with natural selection and speciation. This is tied in closely with chapter seven where the focus is on island biogeography. Here there's a chance to study both spatial and biological patterns. Islands are key elements of biogeography not just for the opportunity they give us to study biogeography in action but also for their use in wildlife conservation. Ever since the first island biogeography notions this has been an expanding field - what we get here is a good overview. Comment was made above to the lack of geological timescale material in the work. This is remedied in chapter 8 which provides a good introduction to speciation and extinction through time. This provides a preview for chapter 9 which continues the development of species through to modern times. It describes the hypotheses surrounding modern distributions. Unlike many texts it then takes the topic on a geographical basis with each major biogeographical region being described. This is another useful feature because it ties in methods and theory with specific areas. Since we'd already seen the impact of geological-scale movements of species distribution it makes sense to describe modern patterns. The next stage is to describe major changes in distribution. Two key examples are chosen for this. In chapter 10 we are told of the changes brought about by glaciation and the intervening warmer spells. Chapter 11 does the same thing only for people and the way they have manipulated spatial and ecological patterns. The problem with most of biogeography is that it keeps to terrestrial systems. Chapter 12 breaks with this and provides a fair overview of marine distributions. Since so much work is currently being done in this area all we get is a summary to date but it does help to fill in some blanks. At the beginning of this review note was made of the changes that have enveloped the subject. Chapter 14 deals with one of these changes directly- the impact of molecular and genetic ecology on biogeography. Although still in its infancy this area has great potential: it's good to see mention of it in an introductory text. Chapter 14 continues the theme in a way by looking at ways of interpreting the past - here, suing taxonomy and cladistics rather than molecules. Of course, both are needed if we are to understand past and present biogeography. It's fitting therefore that the last chapter examines what might be happening in the future both to the human population and the changes in distribution and diversity of other species.

There is much to commend in this text. It has a clean, clear layout aided in each chapter with boxes describing specific methods and concepts as well as a final summary. The main concepts are laid out with a wide range and depth of examples. Set against this is the density of the text and the sophistication of language used. Although aimed at the beginner it would be of far more use to someone already in geographical training of some sort who is looking to expand their field of study. In such a case this text would be a valuable addition.


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