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Title: Princeton Guide to Ecology
Author(s): Simon A Levin (Ed)
Date of Publication: 2009 Publisher: Princeton University Press
Pages:pp xiii + 809 ISBN: 978 0 691 12839 9
Price: Format:Hardcover
Target Readership Educator







Content: 1 – Autecology; 2 – Population ecology; 3 – Communities and ecosystems; 4 – Landscapes and the biosphere; 5 – Conservation biology; 6 – Ecosystems services; 7 – Managing the biosphere.

Review: Most of the current crop of ecology texts focus on the science of ecology usually in terms of individuals, communities and ecosystems. Whilst this is an excellent approach for teaching introductory ecology courses it does less to help those who have some background knowledge and need to see what are the basic concepts in a topic and the key developments/issues arising. This text seeks the latter course with the aim of providing, as the title suggests, a critical reflection on current ecology. It is not a basic ecological text but it does tackle themes from an introductory perspective. What is also provides is that element of reflection and discourse that is often missing.

The editor has gathered a large number of contributors (over 120) to put together 92 briefings divided into 7 key areas. This alone is an impressive set of statistics but as always, it’s the detail that counts. We start with autecology and the studies of single species’ interactions. Starting with an article on niche, this section continues to survey the major sub-topics in the field including organismal physiology, behavioural ecology, geographic range and evolution. Part two looks at populations including demography, metapopulation analysis, competition and predation finishing with an examination of coevolution. Following the ‘tradition’ of introductory ecology, part three examines the interactions within communities and ecosystems. Here, the focus is on aspects of biodiversity, community organisation, biogeochemical cycles and responses to change. If these three parts could be said to be the ‘theoretical’ side then the remainder of the text focuses on the ‘applied’ aspects. Part four examines ecosystems at the larger scale of landscapes. Here, human action can have a considerable impact not least in species and habitat loss. Contributions here focus on biodiversity, fragmentation, boundary dynamics and specific area dynamics e.g. coral reefs. Part five follows logically in that it examines the theory and practice of conservation. It starts with species loss and continues with topics of species viability, reserve design and conservation dynamics. Part six turns to the increasingly popular aspect of ecosystem services. In a text where critical reflection is key, this part stands out with the topics it explores which include trade-offs, ecosystem examination and technological examination. Finally, part seven studies ecosystem management from agriculture to wildlife to governance.

Each chapter follows a common pattern which makes it extremely easy to switch between topics. An outline and opening paragraph is followed by a glossary, discussion of the topic and references. Although each topic varies in size there’s an average of 6-10 pages each.

Overall, this is an excellent guide. It provides the reader (with some knowledge of ecology) a series of excellent overviews of both topic and the discussions surrounding it. The quality of work and editing is uniformly excellent. Although similar to the Encyclopaedia of Life Sciences it has the advantage of being more obviously critical. This is one text that needs to be on all library shelves if we are to make our students more critical learners.





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