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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Title: Ecology of Desert Systems Book Review

Author
item Longland, William

Submitted to: Quarterly Review of Biology
Publication Type: Review Article
Publication Acceptance Date: January 14, 2003
Publication Date: March 1, 2003
Citation: Longland, W.S. 2003. Ecology of desert systems book review. Quarterly Review of Biology. 78(1): 117.

Interpretive Summary: The new textbook by Walter Whitford, entitled Ecology of Desert Systems, summarizes the extensive experience and knowledge of a scientist with a long, distinguished background in the study of desert ecology. The author illustrates facts and concepts presented in the book with his first hand research experience, drawing most examples from the deserts of southern New Mexico where he has spent the majority of his career. Whitford details desert ecology from the 'big picture' level of discussing large-scale phenomena, such as rainfall patterns across large desert regions, to the minute, obscure (yet still important) phenomena, such as effects of desert termites on soil chemistry. The author introduces new terms and concepts without assuming that they are familiar to the reader, however the text still requires a reasonable familiarity with ecology, geology, and associated jargon. Consequently, the book will be useful as a text for advanced students of desert ecology, but will generally be beyond the interests of beginning students.

Technical Abstract: The 12 chapters of Whitford's book, Ecology of Desert Systems, summarize the comprehensive experiences and knowledge of a scientist with an extensive research background on a wide variety of physical and biological aspects of desert ecology. The author illustrates facts and concepts presented in the book with his first hand research experience, drawing most examples from the Chihuahuan Desert of southern New Mexico where he has spent the majority of his career. Whitford is an ecosystem/ landscape level ecologist and indeed much of the book approaches desert ecology from the 'big picture. However, he also highlights the importance of many smaller scale phenomena - from microsite effects of raindrop splash to seed trap pits and redistribution of seeds by individual seed-eating animals. Although the author introduces new terms and concepts without assuming that they are familiar to the reader, the text requires a reasonable familiarity with ecology, geology, and associated jargon. Consequently, the book will be useful as a text for an upper division undergraduate or graduate class in desert ecology, but will generally be beyond the interests of beginning students.

Last Modified: 12/20/2014
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