Sherratt and Wilkinson's book centers around 10 big questions in ecology and evolutionary biology, most of which will sound familiar: Why do we age? Why sex? Why cooperate? Why species? Why are the tropics so diverse? Is nature chaotic? Why is the world green? Why is the sea blue? When did we start to change things? And how will the biosphere end? None of these questions have satisfactory answers yet, and therein lies the attraction of this book for stimulating discussions at many levels of expertise about these far-ranging topics. The authors smoothly lay out each question, describe historical proposed answers, explain some of the past and present research in the field, and assess which ideas have been discredited and which are still contenders. In doing so, they nicely illuminate the process of science across decades of research, explaining how even ideas that are no longer held as true helped move the field of discovery forward. The numerous references that document claims are laid out in an end-of-the-book, chapter-by-chapter bibliography. The citations in the text are notated by superscript numbers, which makes finding the appropriate reference easy while not distracting the reader. The authors have made a concerted effort to make their book easily readable (even if the concepts broached are not easily answerable) to a wide audience while maintaining scientific rigor. Their writing style is conversational, easy-flowing, and simplistic while still attention-grabbing. Common names for organisms are used throughout the book, if available, but the corresponding scientific names are listed in the back. Specialized terminology, mathematical equations, and chemical notations are absent, even though a discussion of the relevant concepts is present. There is a glossary of terms, a short explanation of the geologic time scale, and an index; all seem adequate though not overly extensive, in keeping with the authors' goals. Most of the figures are photographs that are clear and interesting, but unfortunately all are in black and white. While this restriction may have been necessary to keep costs low, it is a bit disappointing to see that the pictures accompanying ““Why is the world green?”” and ““Why is the sea blue?”” are black and white. However, while we all know what a green plant and the blue ocean look like, the coloration of cinnabar moth caterpillars and the appearance of stone plants may be less familiar to many readers. The few graphs and schematics are simple and clear. While the text should be understandable to a wide range of audiences, the majority of satisfied readers will be upper-level undergraduates planning to perform graduate work in ecology or evolution through professors of ecology and evolution, with graduate students receiving the largest benefit from this historical look at some of the major questions in their field. While bearing homage to Colinvaux's 1978 book Why Big Fierce Animals Are Rare, the authors have produced a work that is not merely a revised edition of the earlier one. Instead, Big Questions in Ecology and Evolution presents the next logical step forward, updating knowledge and extending the questions and the scope of the considerations for the current and next generations of evolutionary ecologists.
Skip Nav Destination
Book Review| January 01 2010
Big Questions in Ecology and Evolution. By
Oxford University Press.
The American Biology Teacher (2010) 72 (1): 48.
- Views Icon Views
- PDF LinkPDF
- Share Icon Share
- Search Site
Erika Iyengar; Ecology/Evolution. The American Biology Teacher 1 January 2010; 72 (1): 48. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/abt.2010.72.1.12
Download citation file: