Book Review

Francis Brearley

Jaboury Ghazoul & Douglas Sheil:
Tropical Rain Forest Ecology, Diversity, and Conservation.

Paperback: 496 pages
Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA (July 15, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0199285888
ISBN-13: 978-0199285884
Price: 43.00 EUR

Shrinking Diversity

Earth’s different vegetation zones (orange: tropical rain forests)

The incredible biological profusion of tropical rain forests has long inspired adventurers and writers to expound on their majesty. Even hard-nosed scientists are in awe of the evergreen home to half the living animal and plant species on Earth.

As scientific literature increases exponentially, every author struggles to extract the most important results from a nearly boundless amount of research. It’s not just “data-prone” disciplines such as genomics and proteomics that suffer from scientific information overload but also classical disciplines, such as ecology.

Disentangling essential information from the muddle of facts is a skill. Rearranging it in the form of an instructive and enjoyable text book is even more impressive. Plant ecologist Jaboury Ghazoul and forest ecologist Douglas Sheil have done just this. Ghazoul is a professor at Switzerland’s ETH Zurich, while Sheil is a researcher at Wageningen University, the Netherlands, spending a lot of time at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), Indonesia. Some time ago, they presented Tropical Rain Forest Ecology, Diversity, and Conservation, in my opinion the most up-to-date scientific tome on tropical forests.

As your Lab Times reviewer is a colleague of Ghazoul and Sheil, who has jointly published several papers with them in the past, he is, naturally, biased by a conflict of interests. Nevertheless he thinks that they handled the rain forest topic in both a rigorous and inspiring fashion. Whilst your Lab Times reviewer has had many scientific discussions with the authors, partly through some of their joint work, he is also glad to see that their writing is lucid and, at times, humorous, and will appeal to a broad audience of ecologists and conservationists. Indeed, most readers will be able to draw some new knowledge from this book, from interested school children to established ivory tower residents.

Lucid and humorous

Giant fig tree in a tropical rain forest in Costa Rica, the ‘greenest’ country in the world. Photo: Dan Perlman/Ecolibrary

The book provides an overview of the vast diversity of life found in tropical environments, followed by a series of definitive chapters on processes structuring forest formations and diversity, and on the ecological processes occurring in the forest environment. These range from small-scale disturbances such as a falling branch – that may seem minor in the grand scheme of things but could have a profound effect upon the probability that a rain forest seedling grows to adulthood – to the current agricultural expansion in tropical regions which is, arguably, the greatest threat to the survival of tropical forests.

The authors are well aware of the increasing role that forest users and inhabitants play in successful conservation efforts and, as such, the final section examines human interactions with tropical forests and how these forests might successfully be conserved. Arguably, this is where the real importance of this book lies, as many previous volumes have, conveniently, ignored the role of humans in shaping the forests that we know today and, most importantly, the forests of the future. Numerous conservation strategies are considered and evaluated: examples include strictly protected areas, indigenous reserves, timber certification schemes, and ecotourism.

Small disturbances, great threats

For those who are picky, a lack of rigour shown by numerous referencing errors may niggle them; in at least one case the reader is referred to a completely irrelevant article. I hope that these are picked up in reprints of the book. An improved and expanded colour section would also add to its appeal. There are some nice plates at the moment but to really make this book shine, more colour pictures would help. However, I can understand that the authors may wish to keep costs down as, commendably, they have provided copies of the book free to researchers in tropical countries (facilitated by the Center for International Forestry Research).

All in all, this is an important new publication that I predict will be appearing in reference lists very soon and staying there for a long time.

Letzte Änderungen: 29.07.2013