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Fundamental Processes in Ecology: An Earth Systems Approach [Hardcover]

David M. Wilkinson
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

10 Aug 2006 0198568460 978-0198568469 1st Edition
Fundamental Processes in Ecology presents a way to study ecosystems that is not yet available in ecology textbooks but is resonant with current thinking in the emerging fields of geobiology and Earth System Science. It provides an alternative, process-based classification of ecology and proposes a truly planetary view of ecological science. To achieve this, it asks (and endeavours to answer) the question, "what are the fundamental ecological processes which would be found on any planet with Earth-like, carbon based, life?"
The author demonstrates how the idea of fundamental ecological processes can be developed at the systems level, specifically their involvement in control and feedback mechanisms. This approach allows us to reconsider basic ecological ideas such as energy flow, guilds, trade-offs, carbon cycling and photosynthesis; and to put these in a global context. In doing so, the book puts a much stronger emphasis on microorganisms than has traditionally been the case.
The integration of Earth System Science with ecology is vitally important if ecological science is to successfully contribute to the massive problems and future challenges associated with global change. Although the approach is heavily influenced by Lovelock's Gaia hypothesis, this is not a popular science book about Gaian theory. Instead it is written as an accessible text for graduate student seminar courses and researchers in the fields of ecology, earth system science, evolutionary biology, palaeontology, history of life, astrobiology, geology and physical geography.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 196 pages
  • Publisher: OUP Oxford; 1st Edition edition (10 Aug 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0198568460
  • ISBN-13: 978-0198568469
  • Product Dimensions: 24.2 x 15.9 x 1.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 3,191,487 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

More About the Author

Dr Dave Wilkinson is Reader in Environmental Sciences at Liverpool John Moores University in the UK. He has authored and co-authored over 90 scientific publications in biology, environmental science, archaeology and the history of science. He authored the award winning book for Oxford University Press, "Fundamental Processes in Ecology; an Earth systems approach" in 2006. His most recent book is "Big Questions in Ecology and Evolution"; co-authored with Prof Tom Sherratt and published in 2009. He has wide research and teaching interests in biology and environmental sciences.

Product Description

Review

The unconventional theoretical perspective of this clearly written, concise volume will shed fresh light on areas of one's own interest. Readers will find his or her own surprises and illuminations. For me, the exclamation point was Wilkinson's list of fundamental guilds: autotrophs, decomposers, and parasites. (Joel E. Cohen, Rockefeller University and Columbia University, New York, New York.)

Wilkinson does a fine job explaining fundamental ecological processes such as energy flow, multiple guilds, carbon sequestration, etc... (David Wilkins, Boise State University, USA)

...a stimulating text for a graduate seminar in ecology... (J.A. Jones, TRENDS in Ecology and Evolution)

is an intriguing but iconoclastic introduction ... [it] provides a novel and thought-provoking organizational framework for ecology. (J.A. Jones, TRENDS in Ecology and Evolution)

This is a remarkable book at many levels ... Put simply, this should be seen as a key text in any undergraduate ecology/environment course. It's one of the most interesting texts published for some time - a must-buy for the library. (Dr Paul Ganderton, Ecology and Environmental Education)

Wilkinson has succeeded in writing an extraordinarily readable and accessible book that examines some of the very basic questions underlying ecology in its widest sense. There are relatively few books that encourage the reader to shake free from the shackles of conventional thinking and move along new and illuminating paths. Wilkinson has achieved this, and his book deserves to be read, assimilated, and argued over by all those interested in ecology, from undergraduates to senior academics. (British Ecological Society Bulletin,)

In this lucidly written book, Dave Wilkinson introduces the ecological building blocks needed for life to thrive on a planet and explains how a self-regulating 'Gaia' system can emerge from them. (Tim Lenton)

This is a broad and wide ranging yet scrupulously scientific book on ecology. It is just what is needed for the understanding of the fast unfolding disaster of global climate change. I unhesitatingly recommend it to all concerned biologists and climate scientists. (James Lovelock)

About the Author

David M Wilkinson is Reader in Environmental Science in the School of Biological and Earth Sciences at Liverpool John Moores University. He has wide interests within the environmental and biological sciences, where much of his research is on theoretical topics within evolutionary ecology, biogeography and Earth systems science. In addition he is involved in more empirical research on soil protozoa, environmental archaeology and the history of science. His teaching covers a diverse range of topics from the history of geology to forensic archaeology, but centres on various aspects of ecology.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Global thought-experiments 13 Nov 2007
Format:Paperback
Despite lacking any formal background in ecology, I really enjoyed this book. It uses what physicists might characterize as very Fermi-esque, back-of-the-envelope arguments to suggest, among other things, why biodiversity shouldn't be a surprise; why life, if it's present at all on a planet, is more likely to be widespread than isolated; and why the notion of the rain forests as the "lungs of the earth" is wrong. (Our real benefactors: marine phytoplankton, especially because they die and sink; see @88.)

When I first began the book I thought I'd be like an outsider intruding on some family argument: the author is at pains to distinguish his approach from the traditional one in ecology textbooks. Rather than approaching the topic through entities such as genes, individuals, populations, David Wilkinson (DMW) approaches it through processes such as the Second Law of thermodynamics, tradeoffs, hypercycles and photosynthesis (check @13 or see the chapter titles for Chaps. 2-8 for the complete list). I needn't have worried, since the presentation is quite transparent to an outsider to the field (certainly so if you're coming from a physical sciences or engineering background). Although the level of argumentation is sophisticated (more like a perspective piece in Science or Nature than a popularization), the level of biology and chemistry background necessary to follow the argument is probably around freshman level. There's also an extensive glossary at the end, if you can't tell your Archaean from your Phanerozoic.

An organizing concept is thought-experiments about what processes would be necessary for life on a planet not necessarily the earth.
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Amazon.com: 4.0 out of 5 stars  2 reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Global thought-experiments 13 Nov 2007
By A. J. Sutter - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Despite lacking any formal background in ecology, I really enjoyed this book. It uses what physicists might characterize as very Fermi-esque, back-of-the-envelope arguments to suggest, among other things, why biodiversity shouldn't be a surprise; why life, if it's present at all on a planet, is more likely to be widespread than isolated; and why the notion of the rain forests as the "lungs of the earth" is wrong. (Our real benefactors: marine phytoplankton, especially because they die and sink; see @88.)

When I first began the book I thought I'd be like an outsider intruding on some family argument: the author is at pains to distinguish his approach from the traditional one in ecology textbooks. Rather than approaching the topic through entities such as genes, individuals, populations, David Wilkinson (DMW) approaches it through processes such as the Second Law of thermodynamics, tradeoffs, hypercycles and photosynthesis (check @13 or see the chapter titles for Chaps. 2-8 for the complete list). I needn't have worried, since the presentation is quite transparent to an outsider to the field (certainly so if you're coming from a physical sciences or engineering background). Although the level of argumentation is sophisticated (more like a perspective piece in Science or Nature than a popularization), the level of biology and chemistry background necessary to follow the argument is probably around freshman level. There's also an extensive glossary at the end, if you can't tell your Archaean from your Phanerozoic.

An organizing concept is thought-experiments about what processes would be necessary for life on a planet not necessarily the earth. But it's far from abstract -- DMW's day job is as an empirical scientist rather than theoretician, and there are plenty of empirical papers cited. (Pace another reviewer, however, the book expressly and repeatedly disclaims being about "applied ecology," and makes no pretence of addressing management issues.) He's also quite up-front when he feels there isn't enough data to figure out whether, e.g., some process might accelerate or mitigate global warming (see @108).

Many of the results are quite counter-intuitive, at least if one's intuition is shaped by cable TV "Planet in Peril" extravaganzas. In terms of their effects on regulating the planetary environment so that it remains habitable, DMW suggests that prokaryotes are far more important than polar bears or pandas, and parasites than predators. (Admittedly, he doesn't address the issue of species charisma, which makes pandas better than any Prochlorococcus as poster-organisms for changing human behavior.) But the real fun of the book is the simple, common-sense way in which these results are derived.

The list of references at the end is excellent, and comprises more than 20 pages (the main text is only about 140). I also admire an author who cites one of his own papers only to mention that he was wrong (see discussion of dark pigments in leaves @105).

My one gripe is that the copy editor for this book (or the more senior Oxford UP editor who perhaps chose to forego one) should be summarily fired. There are numerous typos, run-on sentences and non sequiturs, and sentences missing commas where one is necessary in order to make sense. One should not have to waste time puzzling over statements like "As the sun's energy has increased [cite], the CO2 greenhouse has decreased helping [sic] to regulate the Earth's surface temperature," @ 103. (Should be "decreased, helping", with quite the opposite meaning from the original.) The net effect is like eating a very tasty lunch in the company of dozens of persistent flies. I read the hardcover edition, but from Amazon's "look inside" feature the paperback seems to preserve these irritations. But don't let that deter you from reading this very clever and intriguing book.
0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Certainly not mind-blowing 12 Nov 2007
By nope - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Although it presents a useful approach to determining ecosystems, from a management perspective, there are better approaches.
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