Tuesday, October 30, 2012

A New Book on Urban Ecology

A new book on urban ecology is about to appear.  Three urban ecologists from the University of Quebec in Montreal, Beatrix Beisner, Christian Messier, and Luc-Alain Giraldeau, have compiled an engaging series of essays to share with general readers and students the richness of ecological processes and phenomena in cities, suburbs, and exurbs (CSE).  I was very excited to obtain an advanced copy of this book at a recent meeting on urban biodiversity in Montreal.

The book starts out with a statement that will be uncontroversial to biophysical ecologists and the other researchers who work with them: “Above all else, ecology is a science.  Ecology is not a philosophy or a way of being, and even less is it a panacea to save the planet” (Beisner et al. 2013: 1).  Of course sound ecological knowledge is of extraordinary utility in identifying and solving environmental problems, but this is because of the scientific foundation it provides.  Ethics, philosophy, and action are the tools by which scientific knowledge come to play its key role in personal and social decision making.  In its 147 pages, this book comprises 25 essays that range widely across the ecological principles, processes, and responses relevant to urban systems in the broadest sense.

Readers will come away with an understanding of the fundamental processes of biological production and decomposition as they occur in CSE systems.  The technical vocabulary needed for this understanding is gently introduced, and for the forgetful, a glossary appears at the end of the book.  Each essay includes a few beautiful line drawings and illustrations to engage the reader visually in the topic as well.

Although the titles of the essays do not always alert the professional ecologist to the technical content, rest assured that the conceptual coverage is broad.  Ponds and aquatic organisms, the function of plants and the composition of vegetation, the role of invasive species, evolution and adaptation, population dynamics, pollution, and social ecology are among the many topics exemplified in the essays. 

In addition to understanding some of the key points of ecological knowledge needed to understand and better manage and plan CSE systems, readers will come to appreciate the nature of ecological science itself.  Controversies, conflicting hypotheses, and problematic interpretations are highlighted in some of the essays.  All of the essays include questions, a point to discuss, or an invitation for rigorous observation that can involve readers in the thinking and doing that are the core of science. 

Watch for this little book in 2013, in either paper or e-book formats, as a stimulus for teaching and learning about the inextricable meshing of the ecological in our cities, suburbs, and towns. 


Beisner, B., C. Messier, and L.-A. Giraldeau, editors. 2013. Nature all around us: a guide to urban ecology. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.  (Readers in French will want to look for the publication under the title L’ecologie en ville published by Editions Fide in 2006.)

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