Publisher: Cambridge University Press Date of Publication: 2004
Price: ISBN: 0 521 80484 1
Pages: xii + 302 Format: Paperback

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Contents:

1 - Flows and movements in ecology; 2 - Causes, mechanisms and consequences of propagating influences; 3 - How do we see nature?; 4 - Representing and predicting propagation phenomena: modeling in explicit-realistic space; 5 - Introduction to part 2; 6 - Diffusion; 7 - Colluvial transport; 8 - Wind transport; 9 - Fire; 10 - Fluvial transport; 11- Animal transport; 12 - Electromagnetic radiation; 13 - The propagation of sound.

 

Review:

Every so often there comes along a book that makes you re-think how you see the environment. It may or may not change your views but it forces you to do some serious thinking about perspectives that you had taken for granted up to that point. The authors have produced such a text. Although it becomes quite complex the basic idea is easy to state: rather than studying a range of ecosystems with inputs and outputs, this book looks at the flows of phenomena which 'wash' over the ecosystem. In the former the ecosystems are the focus and the flows move around: in the latter the ecosystems are seen as places where a range of flows meet in a specific combination. It turns conventional thinking around and on this ground alone the book is worth exploring further.

The book is divided broadly into two unequal parts. The first part deals with the philosophy and theory behind the ideas. We start with a basic overview which outlines the nature of flows, shows how some simple models examine flows (e.g. clines in oceans) and points out some of the values of this perspective. Chapter two tries to get to grips with new ways of describing familiar phenomena. As soon becomes clear, it's not possible to use old words and ideas for describing new concepts. There are a number of key elements: for example, if there's a flow it must be of something and it must have a three-dimensional pattern (or 4-dimensional if you include time). It soon becomes clear that this is a complex topic. Chapter three is a more reflective, philosophical look at 'nature' and how we see it. Underlying this is the message that we have different perspectives and that this influences our decisions - in reality there are multiple perspectives. Chapter four introduces the modelling system to be used in part two - Geographic Information Systems (GIS). There follows a critique of the nature of GIS and the problems and prospects in poses. It's worth noting here that the practical work of part two is via GIS (including the models and data found on the accompanying CD); a GIS program is therefore essential to work through the ideas (but not the book). Part two is a more focussed area with each chapter examining one specific flow or vector. These and other ideas are described in the very brief fifth chapter. Chapter six examines diffusion. Diffusion is a key flow in which, broadly, a given item is spread with concomitant reductions in concentrations at any given point. There are numerous diffusion situations including the soil-atmosphere and ocean-atmosphere ones. Chapter seven examines colluvial transport - mass movements and their implications. Starting with a simple case of a boulder moving downslope we are shown the numerous impacts this can have on the local ecosystems. Chapter eight changes scale to consider wind transport. The basics of atmospheric phenomena are described along with a brief description of some of the models. Fire is a particularly spectacular flow whose parameters are the subject of chapter 9. Chapter 10 moves on to water with a more comprehensive look at water flow dynamics and modelling as well as impact. Animal migration is also a flow as are bird and insect feeding movements. Such movements shift pollen and, by inference, distribution patterns. The two final chapters examine energy in terms of radiation and sound.

This is a most interesting text. It covers something we've all thought about but in a new way. It puts forward a convincing argument to look at this perspective to see what it can offer us. At the same time it's very clear that the material gathered, although extensive, is not evenly distributed with some common areas such as air and water having proportionately more material than, say, fire. As it's a new area it limits readership to educator and undergraduate but within these communities it is highly recommended for its ability to make us question the familiar.

 

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