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Grasses and grassland ecology.
DJ Gibson. 2009.
Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. £34.95 (paperback). 305 pp.
This book is an ambitious synthesis of current knowledge about grasses and grasslands. In addition to summarizing what we know about grassland structure and function, it covers the structure, physiology and systematics of grasses. In this way the book extends far beyond the usual scope of ecological reviews. It will be valuable in broadening the perspectives of ecologists to consider grasslands in terms of the unique attributes of their dominant plants.
Chapters cover evolution and taxonomy, grass structure in an ecological context, physiology, population and community ecology, ecosystem function, a global overview of grassland types, disturbance and management. Each chapter is encyclopedic in nature, clearly written and liberally illustrated. Particularly valuable are tables that allow cross-referencing of troublesome variables such as species' names and various grassland classification systems.
The first chapter is rich with interesting information, such as grasslands being the home of nearly a billion people and having the lowest proportion of protected areas of any habitat type. However, this standard is not quite maintained throughout the book. For example, the last section, on restoration, states that restoration is as much an art as a science, and resorts to anecdotal accounts, largely bypassing the extensive grassland literature that has recently appeared in journals like Restoration Ecology. The slippage is evident in earlier ecological chapters and I found myself wishing for more recent references and more quantitative examples. The writing could be more incisive in some areas, and more critical in others. The pre-European population of North American bison is given as 30–60 million without justification. Similarly, ecosystem-level effects of diversity are presented without mentioning the sampling effect: diverse mixtures always contain a few large species that increase mixture productivity and decrease invasion rates.
The text does a good job at spelling out the origins and predictions of contrasting conceptual models. It is inclusive and up-to-date in its treatment of certain subjects such as nitrogen cycling and allelopathy. Especially laudable is the global context, including a survey of world grasslands, consideration of how processes such as grazing work differently in different grasslands, and models developed in contrasting regions. The book is also very broad in providing a quick introduction to grassland management and evaluation.
The text is free of mistakes and the tables and figures (some in colour) are clear. The cover is especially attractive and the soft cover version is small, supple and easy to delve into.
The stated audience is senior students and researchers. Students will be well-served by the breadth of the treatment and an introduction to the many and diverse topics that make up grassland ecology, especially if the book is supplemented by critical reading of more recent papers. Researchers will also benefit from a global perspective on grasslands, but may feel that some topics need to be explored in much greater depth.
Grasses and grassland ecology provides an engaging synthesis within a context that is global both geographically and scientifically. It will be especially valuable in broadening the perspectives of both students and researchers.