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Bryophyte biology, 2nd edn.
B Goffinet, AJ Shaw. eds. 2009.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
£35 (paperback). 565 pp.
Our last review, of the first edition, was broadly favourable, but made several suggestions that have not been taken up. Doubtless the editors had many conflicts to resolve, but while this compilation may prove enormously frustrating for the non-expert, it certainly does fit the back cover description‘..an authoritative treatment of bryophyte biology, with rich citation of the current literature, suitable for advanced students and researchers’. There remain no references to being ‘accessible and well illustrated’ (in the first edition), so the editors have obviously decided to pitch to the cognoscenti.
The book achieves its aims – providing the reader has an understanding of the meaning of terms such as ‘prosenchymatous’, ‘anacrogynous’, ‘Bauplan’, ‘superincumbent’ and ‘nematodontous’ or access to a good bryological dictionary, there is a huge amount of useful information to be had. Illustrations are sparse and exclusively black and white, but typographical errors are very few (e.g. achegoniate) and mismatch of message the same (please let's agree on substrate/substratum!), so the reader is faced with an exceptionally rich and well-edited resource. The editors have collected many of the major bryological players and generated a tome of enormous merit. We take exception to the concept of the bryophyte life cycle being ‘peculiar’ (p. 394) as we are comfortable that it is the master plan, with all subsequent life cycles being mere derivatives, but have few other constitutional disagreements.
Once again, the book starts with morphology and classification – not for the faint hearted, and laden with jargon, but bang up to date and richly referenced. We especially liked the idea of ‘papillae as snorkels emerging from the water surface’ and were intrigued to learn that leafy shoots remain viable after passage through bats. The going gets easier with the chapter on ‘mosses as model organisms…’ by Andrew Cuming, a refreshing non-‘Arabidocentric’ view of the plant kingdom that makes recent research extremely accessible to the non-expert. Michael Proctor continues the tone – we especially liked the explanation of desiccation tolerance as the reversible biological equivalent of good electron microscopy fixation! Jeff Bates shows a particularly keen awareness of recent developments in his account of mineral nutrition and substratum ecology, and his section on internal recycling is an incredibly useful compilation.
Alain Vanderpoorten and Tomas Hallingback's chapter on conservation is as information-dense as the rest of the book. All of the chapters require a careful read, and re-read with a dictionary at hand, but the attention is richly repaid. To anyone embarking on conservation projects involving bryophytes – read this chapter first! This is a comprehensive review of why bryophytes need conserving – but serves to highlight how little we actually know. Places of conservation interest for bryophytes only partially overlap areas of interest for angiosperms and animals. This suggests that bryophytes are not good indicators of overall diversity but follow different rules. It is a pity that the authors have missed recent papers showing that desiccation-intolerant species can be cryopreserved, but this is a minor complaint.
We end with an unapologetic self-plagiarized quote from the review of the first edition – this ‘should be an essential purchase for budding bryologists with plenty of background literature to hand, to all established bryological researchers [we defy you not to learn something new!] and to all libraries’.