The variety of texts in introductory ecology is considerable.
Although many focus on the basic concepts are are those that
take another tack and attempt to put the learner first - where
ecological ideas are not the primary focus and where the goal
is to encourage deeper study. This book falls into this category.
From its first pages it is obvious that the goal is to show
the "beauty and importance of ecology" (p viii) and
that much of the book is devoted to this.
start with a problem - that of amphibian decline and see how
ecology can be used to explain and test what is happening. The
remainder of the chapter focusses on the types of questions
ecology can answer (and why those answers are sometimes contradictory.
From here, the text is divided into six. Part one looks at the
environment. Essentially this is the abiotic component of ecosystems.
Chapter two starts with an overview of global energy variation
and its resulting climatic impact. Chapter three returns to
a biological theme but in terms of global vegetation patterns
although it's largely as a function of response to the usual
temperature/precipitation gradients. Chapter four and five are
paired in their exploration of how organisms respond to environmental
variations. The former looks at changes in heat and water whilst
the latter focusses on energy. The unusual element here is that
variations are taken on a wider canvas than normal with discussions
down to cellular level as well as up to ecosystems. A brief
review of evolution in response to these variations completes
the part. Part two examines populations. Again, the broader
view is taken with chapter 7 looking at life strategies but
from a developmental as well as ecological perspective. Having
gained some insight into species growth and survival, the remaining
three chapters look at three key population areas- distribution,
regulation and the dynamics balancing the two. Although chapter
10's focus is on dynamics it's not until part three that population
interactions are taken further. Here, we have the usual range
of topics starting with general ideas of competition and then
refining then through predation/herbivory, parasites and mutualism/commensalism.
As with the other chapters, there's a very wide range of cases
both spatially and organismally going from the classic snowshoe
hare to human parasites. Part 4 moves on the communities and
their structure. Chapter 15 outlines the basic components of
communities. Chapter 16 focusses on change starting with the
Mount St Helens eruption as a model of change and then moving
on to succession. Community change produces patterns which are
then, as we see in chapter 17, part of biogeography - the mapping
of these distributions. Finally there's a discussion on the
nature of biodiversity. Part 5 moves up from community to ecosystems.
Primary production starts the unit which continues by studying
food webs and energy flow and finishes with biogeochemical cycles.
Part six applies the principles in the book to the study of
current global issues - conservation, landscape management and
is a very interesting text. The production quality is amongst
the highest to be seen. Full-colour illustrations abound. Examples
are global and scales range from micro to macro. There is a
very obvious effort to work extremely hard on the pedagogical
features of the text. Chapter start with interesting case studies
continue with text boxes, key word highlighting and finish with
summaries, review questions web links and suggested readings.
promises more interactive material with online quizzes, summaries,
problems, glossaries etc. It's a complete package for the beginner
and those wanting to see where their ecology fits into the broader
picture. As such it is probably one of the best information
sets currently available and although some ecologists might
question some of the inclusions/exclusions it's bright and thoughtful
text should win it numerous converts. A definite buy for the