British plant communities, volume 3: Grasslands and Montane communities

British plant communities, volume 3: Grasslands and Montane communities

90 Book reviews British Plant Communities, Volume 3: Grasslands and Montane Communities. Edited by J. S. Rodwell. Cambridge University Press. 1992. ...

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Book reviews

British Plant Communities, Volume 3: Grasslands and Montane Communities. Edited by J. S. Rodwell. Cambridge University Press. 1992. x + 540 pp. ISBN 0 521 39166 0. Price £95.00 hbk. The merits of this series are already apparent. At last we have comprehensive accounts of most British plant communities. This volume deals with mesotrophic, calcicolous and calcifugous grasslands and montane communities. Each category has a general introduction, a key and a set of community descriptions. Much valuable information is compressed into this book, and it is the essential starting point for anyone setting out on community or autoecological research in Britain. The keys are relatively easy to use, and quite effective in distinguishing communities. Obviously they have to be used with care, and it is not unusual to find several communities in one meadow. That is not surprising when one is dealing with something as complex as vegetation. There are puzzling omissions; there is no reference to the vegetation of serpentine, which though small in area is not insignificant in the Scottish uplands, and is well known and documented. Similarly that of mine wastes is ignored. Welsh upland communities are probably under-represented in comparison with those of Scotland. But these are small grumbles. This and its companion volumes are a remarkable achievement. John Rodwell has a singular ability to bring much information together in a comprehensible form and to illuminate it with many pertinent and perceptive insights into habitat in the widest sense, and also zonation and succession. This is no dry compilation of data, but a fascinating read, which should be on every ecologist's shelves. There's the rub; how many can afford the inflated price? S. R. J. Woodell A Review of the Scarce and Threatened Hemiptera of Great Britain. By Peter Kirby. Joint Nature Conservation Committee, Peterborough. 1992. 265 pp. ISBN 1873701 02 00. Price: £9.00. A Review of the Scarce and Threatened Coleoptera of Great Britain. By P. S. Hyman (revised and updated by M. S. Parsons). JNCC, Peterborough. 1992. 484 pp. ISBN 1873 701 10 1. Price: £18.00. Since its establishment in 1980 by the Nature Conservancy Council, the Invertebrate Site Register has done much to record and publicise the conservation of insects and other invertebrates. Its reviews of major groups of British insects are welcome additions to both the entomological and the conservation literature. Unfortunately, the JNCC does not seem to be clear as to the titles of either of the series--is it UK Nature Conservation (title page of Kirby) or UK Nature Series (p. iii)?--or the reviews themselves (two different titles given in Kirby)?

Of the two volumes reviewed here, Kirby's is the more comprehensive, partly because he is dealing with a smaller number of species, partly because more is known about the Hemiptera than the Coleoptera. His references are also more helpful, because Hyman relies on a secondary source of literature, though this is clearly justified in covering such a large number of species. There are bound to be different opinions on the most helpful arrangement of species. My own view, as a specialist, is that 'check list' order is preferable. This arrangement is adopted for the Heteroptera (which are well-known from Southwood and Leston's 1959 account) but not for the other groups. Both volumes are mines of information on the distribution of the species, and Kirby, in particular, contains much useful biological information. Some omissions are apparent, but this is probably inevitable in such wide-ranging compilations. The sections on conservation are very uneven, being greatly hampered by lack of information. Many of the suggestions for conservation, particularly in Hyman, are very general, and some are implausible. I did not get any impression that the ecological dynamics of either the insects or their habitats was fully appreciated. Time after time reference is made to the 'maintenance' of this or that set of conditions, without reference to the ability of insect populations to move and colonise new areas and without recognising the importance of successional processes. Although this may be understandable in an organisation so committed to 'site safeguard', it does not fully reflect other important aspects of conservation such as re-creation and re-establishment. One other important criticism of the two works is the way in which Red Data Book status of many species has been unilaterally changed. The original Insect Red Data Book (Shirt, 1987) was produced by the community of British entomologists acting through a consortium of interested organisations. It is disappointing to find that this community has not been consulted over the changes. Although these are only 'suggested', and although some of these changes are undoubtedly justified, a more open discussion of their merits should have been held. These adverse criticisms should not detract from what are two notable and timely reviews which should be consulted by any conservation officer responsible for the conservation of any part of the British insect fauna. The reviews make an important contribution to the conservation of biodiversity in the United Kingdom. M. G. Morris

REFERENCES Shirt, D. B. (ed.) (1987). British Red Data Book: 2. Insects. Nature Conservancy Council, Peterborough. Smithwood, T. R. E. & Leston, D. (1959). Land and Water Bugs of the British Isles. Warne & Co., London.