Publisher: Blackwell Publishing Date of Publication: 2005
Price: £ 39.99 ISBN: 0 632 04513 2
Pages: ix + 319 Format: Paperback

Overall Score:

Target Readership Sen. Secondary For help with criteria, click here


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1 - Many tropical rain forests; 2 - Plants: building blocks of the rain forest; 3 - Primate communities: a key to understanding biogeography and ecology; 4 - Carnivores and plant eaters; 5 - Birds: linkages in the rain forest community; 6 - Fruit bats and gliding animals in the tree canopy; 7 - Insects: diverse, abundant, and ecologically important; 8 - The future of rain forests.



The need to understand tropical rain forests is as great as ever and yet many texts on the subject start with the (usually unwritten) presumption that the forest is one ecosystem rather than many. The difference with this text is that it starts out explicitly stating that there are numerous differences between rain forests: many ecosystems rather than one (hence the book's subtitle: an ecological and biogeographical comparison). The book starts by exploring the nature of these differences using a location-by-location basis rather than any other system. There's much merit in this. It differentiates the areas in the mind of the reader and follows far more closely with the ways in which, for example, global conservation organisations see the topic. There's also a good overview of the environmental parameters of rainforests as well as a history of their development through geological time. Chapter two looks at plants. After a brief introduction about forest plants and forest structure, there is a broad outline of the main plant families seen and then a description of major plant types by location. Chapter three starts the discussion about the animal kingdom. The first group is the primates. Such animals have been the subject of considerable research but here the focus is on the various types seen in the forests: between Old world and New World primates and the implications of this. Again we see description by animal group and location. Chapter four brings us to a wide range of animals - opposites in some ways - the herbivores and carnivores. Although different in terms of ecology they all share the common link of highlighting differences between forests. The differences here are discussed in terms of feeding habits and location within the forest structure as well as the obvious changes between areas. Birds, the subject of chapter five, provide another example of diversity even though, as the authors state in the introduction, one might think that the forest structure would lead to more convergent evolution. Although this is seen there's more to be gained by looking at common features especially through guild structure and then relating that to differences in the forest location. Of course, birds aren't the only flying animal in the forest. Bats and gliders also play an important role in seed dispersal and pollination. Chapter seven looks at the greatest group of all - insects. If, as the authors assert, all the other species make up only 1% of forest species then insects have a great weight of numbers (and biomass!) on their side. Butterflies, ants, termites, bees and others pollinate the area or help break down material and re-cycle it. The final chapter takes a completely different tack and looks at the threats facing forests. As we might expect there are a range of key threats common to all areas but again each forest location has its own set/mixture. Unlike many texts this doesn't turn into a litany of problems: a considerable fraction of the chapter is given over to finding solutions and presenting cases where good work has been done. We know the value of these forests and it seems this is becoming increasingly understood.

This is an excellent text with much to recommend it. The structure is clear and the key points are accessible even to the beginner. There are some great photographs with a large section of colour images showing something of the splendour of the forests. Perhaps its best attribute is the freshness it brings to the topic by virtue of the perspective it takes. There's so much written on rain forests that this novel approach is valuable. It should be seen as a key text for those teaching this area of ecology.


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