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Title: Ecology of Woodlands and Forests: Description, Dynamics and Diversity
Author(s): Peter A Thomas and John R Packham.
Date of Publication: 2007 Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Pages:xiv + 528 ISBN: 978 0 521 54231 9
Price: Format:Paperback
Target Readership Educator







Content: 1 – Forest basics; 2 - Forest soils, climate and zonation; 3 - Primary production and forest development; 4 - Reproductive strategies of forest plants; 5 - Biotic interactions; 6 - Biodiversity in woodlands; 7 - Decomposition and renewal; 8 - Energy and nutrients; 9 - Forest change and disturbance; 10 - Working forests; 11 - The future - how will our forests change?

Review: There are numbers of books dealing with specific ecosystems or even with small sets of ecosystems but there are fewer that attempt a global perspective and even fewer that try from a functional rather than ecological perspective. The distinction is important. Ecological texts tend to evaluate ecosystems in terms of set characteristics e.g. abiotic components; functional texts make the components central to the work and use different cases to exemplify similarities and differences. There is much to be said for this approach especially when we are asked to carry out detailed comparisons between related but disparate ecosystems (e.g. between boreal and tropical rain forest). The functional approach allows us to highlight the key building blocks of ecosystems which is a better learning strategy especially for the beginners for whom this book is aimed. What is important is the extent to which this goal is realised.

We start with an overview of basic forest concepts. Here the reader gets to distinguish between woodland and forest and gets an idea of the global extent (and some classification), structure and even value of forests. Chapter two starts with a good overview of pedology and soil geochemistry showing how this then impacts upon ground flora and root systems. There is also a discussion on forest zonation. Chapter three focusses upon primary production and the abiotic factors that control it. These abiotic factors not only control production but also reproduction as chapter four examines. The biology of reproduction is outlined and some of the constraints e.g. time, biotic interference, are discussed. Chapter five looks at the biotic environment. We've already studied primary production but there's also a range of biological features that impact upon this. For example, the reader is given an idea of the impact of insects and fungi on forests as well as herbivory (which turns to consider the longer term impact of herbivores on forest structure and even existence). A range of species implies biodiversity and chapter six highlights the range of biodiversity patterns to be found in the world's forests and how this might vary. There are also linkages to conservation and back to basic ecology in considering how species might co-exist. Chapter seven turns to a key part of forest ecology - decomposition and the variables that control its rate and extent etc. Chapter 8 takes this one stage further by describing the flow of nutrients and energy. Starting with the famous Hubbard Brook ecosystem the authors take us through energy flows and budgets, key nutrients and even human impact on this. Chapter 9 takes a totally different stance in that it discusses forest change but goes right back in geological time to start the study. Thus we have an overview of forests past (very past to start with), somewhat present (in terms of the Holocene changes) to quite recent changes. There is also some examination of the factors which influence change and several cases studies illustrating these basic themes. Unusually for a forest ecology book, chapter 10 gives an illuminating description of a range of human activities from clear felling to sustainable forests. Even if we do not like the rate of human activity it is useful to see it in context. The final chapter is devoted to forest change looking at a range of drivers from timber demand and global warming through to acid rain and heavy metal pollution. On the plus side there's a brief overview of reforestation.

This is an extremely useful text. It is densely packed with information which although accessible is rarely found in one place. It covers an impressive range of basic concepts with no obvious notable omission. There are numerous examples from around the world often with several different cases illustrating the same concept. From this book its possible to both understand the functioning of forests and woodlands but also show how this relates in specific ecosystems. The only downside is that secondary students would find it tough going. However, as an educator text it is to be highly recommended because of the wealth of detail found in one place. Field centres would also find this an invaluable reference. Overall, a great text that deserves a wide readership.





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