COMMUNITY ECOLOGY: AN EXPERIMENTALIST'S (MODERN) DESCRIPTION.
This textbook was developed from the course that Morin has taught for 15 years to graduate students at Rutgers University. The preface states that it should be useful to upper-level undergraduates and graduate students. It will be useful to professionals too; it is a solid text with up-to-date treatment. It covers no new ground, but draws much material together in one volume in such a way that any interested person can save a lot of time in finding both useful references and at least one synthesis of many important ideas. I will draw on the text in this way repeatedly in the several ecology courses that I teach.
The book's purpose is to serve as a text for a course in community ecology, and it will serve admirably. Any serious student attempting to wend his way through the complexities of this rather difficult subject will find excellent assistance. Any professor teaching a community ecology course will find that the text provides much organizational help and direction.
The content is much the same as has been included in similarly titled tomes for the past two decades and that I remember studying under that rubric as an undergraduate in the 1960s (but much updated, of course). However, probably because Morin has written the book Out of experience and as a text, he has provided a heavy dose of population ecology not usually considered to be a part of community ecology in several key places, to make sure that all the intended student audience is ready to explore the community ecology topics. Professors commonly employ this quite useful device. Having this material in one volume will facilitate that practice for professor and student alike.
The main text is in three parts: (I) "Communities: basic patterns and elementary processes"; (II) "Factors influencing interactions among species"; and (III) "Large-scale, integrative community phenomena." Slightly more than 60% of the text is in Part I, which introduces communities, treats the interactions among populations that Morin considers central to any legitimate concept of community (competition, predation, food webs, mutualism, and indirect effects), and describes the function and contribution of observations, models, and experiments (laboratory and field) to current understandings of communities. Part II (just under 20% of the text) examines temporal patterns in assemblages (but not succession), habitat selection, and spatial dynamics (including recruitment and island biogeography). Part III (slightly less than 20%) analyses species diversity, succession, and applications of community ecology to resource management. Morin's treatment and inclusion of material are appropriate and consistent with cu rrent understandings of the field.
I found the organization laid out in the table of contents (summarized above) and the organization within parts and chapters to be excellent. Subjects are treated in an appropriate order, and are properly integrated with each other so as to allow the naive or the sophisticated reader to readily relate material from one section with material from another. The 15-page index is very complete, with entries that fit both student's and practitioner's expectations. I asked several students to find information on topics they chose, and all found the material they wanted. Morin's writing is clear, concise, and to the point, yet includes sufficient elaboration to be convincing. The placement of the material on stability analysis in an appendix as one example of a useful method in community ecology is appropriate, but I would have liked to have seen additional methods covered similarly. This is not a major weakness of the book as a text, since many methods manuals in ecology are available, and since graduate students a re usually expected to develop methods or to adapt them from original sources for any laboratory work carried Out as part of a course.
The book is typical of most recent texts for advanced courses, with adequate illustrations (most drawn from published sources, a few original to illustrate concepts or points) emphasizing science rather than being included as pedagogical devices. The illustrations effectively communicate by complementing the text.
The treatment of community ecology will not surprise many, and the opening statement ("Ecology is the science of communities," quoted from Victor Shelford) reflects Morin's lifelong work and passion in this area, probably without bias against other subdisciplines in ecology. He is simply emphasizing that ecology involves interactions, and that no natural unit without interactions is complete. He recognizes that others include ecosystem function as a part of community ecology, but excludes it himself from this treatment. I concur, considering that the interactions among populations that are treated here as being a part of community ecology are explored with very different methods from the chemical approaches of the ecosystem ecologist. However, I would also disagree with the opening statement, Shelford's well deserved recognition as a founding parent of modern ecology notwithstanding. The topics explored in this book are part of a continuum of environmental interaction ranging from how the individual copes wi th physical features on a physiological scale, to complex chemical and physical processes on a global scale. This is a quibble rather than a significant criticism.
There are 28 pages of references, about 20 per page. Reference dates range from the 1830s through 1998, with 40 from 1996-1998. These recent references are well integrated into the text. The coverage is generally even across taxa; the large number of plant, insect, and other invertebrate papers probably reflects the literature. However, the slightly greater number of amphibian papers (22 readily recognized) versus fish (19 readily recognized) is almost certainly partly the result of Morin's selection of reports; the fish literature on the community level is exceedingly rich and fishes have made important contributions to community ecology in the past two decades. Morin's purpose was not to review community ecology as illustrated by any particular taxa, but to elucidate principles by drawing on examples and developing generalizations. This he did well. So again, this is a quibble, not a major criticism, and may reflect my own interest in fishes. Certainly, most of the most important contributions that led to general principles being developed are included, regardless of taxa investigated or the date when the contribution was made.
I cannot offer any complaints about the analysis or conclusions included in the text. It is an excellent synthesis of modern community ecology. Students looking for a "soft" introduction will be disappointed, since full mathematical rigor is included. Morin's explanation of the models he chooses to use should be suitable for anyone with a background in calculus and algebra. Practitioners will benefit most from the excellent literature list and the compilation of this content in a single well-integrated book. The sewn paper binding seems sturdy enough, but libraries will likely want to rebind the book for their collections.