TRENDS in Ecology and Evolution
Vol.18 No.4 April 2003
Valuing global environmental change Encyclopedia of Global Environmental Change edited by T. Munn. John Wiley & Sons, 2002. £1500/US$2250 hbk (5 vols, 3326 pages) ISBN 0 471 97796 9
Andrew Watkinson Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, Schools of Environmental and Biological Sciences, University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK NR4 7TJ.
An encyclopedia has to be judged on the basis of its contents together with its index and ease of use. In the case of the Encyclopedia of Global Environmental Change, it must also be measured in terms of value for money – the current cost with a 15% discount is £1250/US$1850. At that price, I was expecting something rather special. First, the contents. Global Environmental Change is divided into five volumes of interrelated material: (1) the earth system: physical and chemical dimensions of global environmental change; (2) the earth system: biological and ecological dimensions of global environmental change; (3) causes and consequences of global environmental change; (4) responding to global environmental change; and (5) social and economic dimensions of global environmental change. As such, it sets out to be comprehensive, with each volume beginning with a group of extended essays about major topics relevant to that volume. Volume 1, for example, includes essay reviews about the earth system, the global temperature record and depletion of stratospheric ozone. Some of these are excellent articles, but what was missing for me was a comprehensive analysis of the major and minor drivers of environmental change. There then follows several shorter articles about various scientific topics, scientific programs, definitions, acronyms and biographies. These range in length from , 100 words (e.g. passerine) to several pages (e.g. plant competition in an elevated carbon dioxide world). Many of these are about topics that you would expect to see in such an encyclopedia, but why do the passerines merit a definition at all, especially when no other order of birds is mentioned. One problem that I had with several articles was that the relevance to global environmental change was not immediately obvious. Several articles in the ecologically centered Volume 2 (e.g. those about the niche and the rhizosphere) would have been equally well at home in a straight ecological encyclopedia. There were also several articles in which the global environmental change context was weak; for example, in those about population sizes and tropical savannas. Other topics, such as diseases and fisheries, Corresponding author: Andrew Watkinson ([email protected]
were covered badly or patchily; much of the information about fisheries related primarily to salmon and there was no mention, as far as I could find, of HIV or TB. Second, the index and ease of use. There is a Contents section at the beginning of each volume covering the contents of that volume and an alphabetical list of articles at the end of each volume covering all five volumes. Volume 5 also provides an overall index, a problem if you do not have all five volumes to hand. I initially looked up disease at the back of Volume 2 (the volume dealing with biological and ecological issues), but finding nothing tried epidemics, AIDS and malaria, all to no effect. Reference to disease in the general index in Volume 5 pointed me toward a couple of articles, one a general essay in Volume 2 that contained a section about climate change, pests and diseases, and another in Volume 3 about viral diseases and the influence of climate change. Neither of these articles pointed me to the article about infectious diseases that I only stumbled across later. I had similar problems with the topic of disturbance. In this case, there was a general article about disturbance in Volume 2, but it did not point me toward Tourism and Ecosystems in Volume 3, where there was also a substantial, if rather weak discussion of the effects of disturbance through tourism on wildlife. As a third test of the index, I tried finding recycling in the alphabetical list of articles in Volume 3 – nothing. The general index in Volume 5 however provided three references to recycling – very brief mentions only in articles about industrial ecology and eco-engineering in Volume 4 and one in an article about urban waste in Volume 3. This led me to search out other articles on waste. Once again the index did not help – nuclear waste, for example, appears under nuclear but not under waste. Finally, I tried looking up carbon sequestration. Nothing under sequestration, but there was a reference under carbon to an article in Volume 2, but, when I got there, I was surprised to find it was an article about nitrogen fixers! Glancing through the index under ocean, land, forest, geosequestration and carbon dioxide, however, did reveal something about iron fertilization but that was in an article about microbial diversity; at least it did provide a brief discussion of the potential of the technique to draw carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The topic of mitigation does not appear anywhere in the index. I did find Volume 4 (responding to global environmental change) useful in helping me find my way around the myriad of organizations and acronyms that you come
TRENDS in Ecology and Evolution
across in the global environmental change world. Here, you will find potted descriptions, for example, of COP, CBD, ECLAC, GATT, IHDP, SCOPE, UNEP and so on. Now I know where to look when another meaningless acronym is thrown into conversation, although it would probably be easier to ask or cheaper to look it up on the web. Volume 5 (social and economic dimensions of global environmental change) was interesting in that it went beyond what I suspect many natural scientists would expect to find in such a volume with discussions of art and all the major religions and the environment. It also contained an entry about encyclopedias with reference to the fact that they are considered by some as ‘significant examples of the total globalizing mentality of the continu-
Vol.18 No.4 April 2003
ing enlightenment project’, not a thought that I had contemplated when I started this review! Any encyclopedia is interesting to dip into, but its utility depends on the quality of the information that it contains and its ease of use. Given the distinguished nature of some of the contributors to this encyclopedia, it would be surprising if there were not some excellent articles, but the coverage of topics is too uneven and the quality rather too variable. It is the organization of the material and the indexing that lets the project down so badly. Normally, I would be willing to be more forgiving, but not at this price. 0169-5347/03/$ - see front matter q 2003 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved. doi:10.1016/S0169-5347(03)00013-2
Articles of interest on BioMedNet Research Updates at http://update.bmn.com Fitness consequences of female extra-pair matings by Tomas Roslin Even in monogamous animals, a female will often betray her spouse by allowing one or even several strange males to father some of her offspring. The question is why, as the female herself is likely to lose both time and effort in selecting the suitable stranger(s). Global change scenarios by Sandra Dı´az Global change scenarios for the coming decades predict increases in atmospheric CO2 concentration, temperature and nitrogen deposition, and changes in the seasonal and geographical distribution of precipitation. Long-term field experiments, performed directly on natural ecosystems, and involving multiple combinations of these factors, have been strongly advocated as our best bet to gain some insight into the biospheres future.
News on http://news.bmn.com GM crop legislation could improve the environment by Henry Nicholls It is only a matter of time before genetically modified (GM) crops will be grown commercially in the UK. But rather than wreaking environmental havoc, as many fear, the introduction of GM crops could bring all-round benefits to the environment by acting as a catalyst for the improvement of agricultural practice in general, say officials. http://tree.trends.com