Fundamentals of geobiology, edited by Andrew H. Knoll, Donald E. Canfield and Kurt O. Konhauser. Wiley-Blackwell, Chichester, 2011. No. of pages: xii+443. Price: US$79.95. ISBN 978-1-4051-8752-7 (paperback).


Since the late 1970s, the field of geobiology has emerged as an important discipline in the study of Earth history. The large volume of research has resulted in a flood of papers and several new journals, but, to date, textbooks in the field have primarily focused on geomicrobiology. With the publication of Fundamentals of Geobiology, the editors have made the full breadth of the field available to students and professionals alike. This well-illustrated textbook consists of 22 chapters written by current experts in the field. The content of the book covers a wide range of topics and includes global geochemical cycles, mineral-microbe interactions, biomineralization, geobiology in Earth history and more.

The chapters are organized in a logical way, beginning with an overview of the field of geobiology. The next six chapters cover the primary global geochemical cycles, namely carbon, nitrogen, sulphur, iron and oxygen. Two chapters are devoted to the carbon cycle, first viewing the global carbon cycle from the perspective of biological processes and then the geological processes.

The next three chapters deal with various aspects of biomineralization including bacterial biomineralization, microbe-mineral interactions and eukaryotic skeletal development. This last chapter includes a thorough section on test development in unicellular eukaryotes including the foraminifera, radiolarians and diatoms.

The concept of animals and plants as geobiological agents are introduced in Chapter 11, and the role of geobiological processes in weathering and soil development are covered in Chapter 12. Several important geochemical methods are reviewed in the next three chapters, which examine the contributions of molecular biology (Chapter 13) and stable isotope methods to geobiology (Chapter 14), and biomarkers (Chapter 15). These are thorough treatments of the respective topics and are useful technical additions to the book.

The next six chapters are a review of geobiology through Earth history. These include an overview of the geological record of Archean and Proterozoic microfossils, an account of the geochemical origins of life, and a fascinating discussion of the co-evolution of the geosphere and biosphere. This section concludes with review chapters on the geobiology of the Archean, Proterozoic and Phanerozoic eons.

The final chapter (Chapter 22) is entitled ‘The Geobiology of the Anthropocene’. The use of the term Anthropocene to recognize human impact on the geologic record is controversial in the geosciences, and its use in a chapter title may irritate some readers. But the chapter is a worthy inclusion in Fundamentals of Geobiology; it does a thorough job of discussing human interaction with the Earth's systems and speculates on the future of our species. While geoscientists may debate whether or not we are living in the Anthropocene Epoch, we must be aware of the ability humans have to impact and shape the Earth's systems.

As a textbook, Fundamentals of Geobiology would find its widest use in geobiology or geomicrobiology courses for graduate students and advanced undergraduates. The book will also serve as a valuable desk reference for geoscientists needing information on specific topics in geobiology. The editors have achieved an internal consistency in the style and presentation of the chapters in the book. In short, the chapters work well together. This aspect makes the complex topics within geobiology very accessible to students with little familiarity with the discipline. The cost of the softcover edition makes this an affordable volume for students and professionals alike. The support website includes a student companion, but at present this includes only the images and tables from each chapter. In summary, Fundamentals of Geobiology would be a welcome addition to any geoscientist's bookshelf, especially those interested in sedimentary geology, palaeobiology or Earth history.