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Ecology and Natural History, New Naturalist Library volume 143 - a review

David M Wilkinson, Professor of Ecology at the University of Lincoln, explains in his foreword that he aspires to write an accessible book, without compromising on scientific rigour. In this aspiration he succeeds - it is not another ecology textbook but, instead, an enjoyable journey around the UK, bringing ecological concepts to life each through a location that played a key role in the discovery or evolution of that concept.

The book also achieves the author's aim of escaping the anthropocentric view of many ecology texts which focus on vertebrates, instead giving due to those organisms which truly influence the environment - the little things.



Each chapter begins with David's visit to the location - from Gilbert White's Selborne to the Cairngorms - which he uses to introduce a fundamental ecological principal. Chapter 6, for example, is an introduction to interspecific competition, using the study of barnacles at Millport in the Firth of Clyde. Like all good teachers, the author successfully explains each concept three times to ensure that it is understood - introducing it to the reader in a brief foreword to each chapter; providing a detailed but accessible explanation of the principle - sometimes taking the narrative right back to scientific fundamentals such as the second law of thermodynamics. Finally, each chapter is summed up by its 'concluding remarks' to ensure that the key points have been grasped.

I do have two minor gripes. New Naturalist books are a phenomenon partly because of their aesthetic; each is an artwork. But for this volume, Robert Gillmor, the cover illustrator of many beautiful previous volumes, seems to be going for a bit of a 'naive' look. Secondly, many of the excellent, and illustrative, photographs (often the author's) are accompanied by a significant paragraph which repeats explanations found in the main text. I found this to be a distraction to the flow of the narrative, and I found myself ignoring this text until the end of each chapter.

David's enthusiasm and his range of knowledge and experience are apparent. He stands on the shoulders of those ecologists and previous New Naturalist writers who have gone before, but he uses his own journey around well-studied British locations to, successfully, weave a narrative somewhere between a popular science book and an informative and readable text book. He encourages the reader to think more deeply about ecological concepts that we may otherwise take for granted.


https://www.newnaturalists.com/products/ecology-and-natural-history-collins-new-naturalist-library-david-wilkinson-9780008293659/


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