The third edition of Esbern Warncke's beautifully illustrated, well-written and highly instructive guide to the background and techniques of field biology is essential reading for any field-based biologist. Why is it of any relevance to geologists and palaeontologists? Fifty years ago, Derek Ager (1963) published the first major textbook, in the English language, on palaeoecology. The core of Ager's book is the importance of fieldwork, the careful observation and recording of field data, and their subsequent analysis and interpretation. Ager drew on a number of field techniques pioneered by biologists such as the line transect and quadrat in capturing data to subsequently frame and test hypotheses. He also emphasized the importance of sampling sufficiency tested with rarefaction. Field Biology continues this tradition of observation before inference.

Warncke's comprehensive guide is based around nine chapters that lead the reader through the basic concepts of ecology, how scientists investigate, examine and describe living floras and faunas, an overview of the factors affecting aquatic and terrestrial life to the organisms themselves, together with an insight into the changes in the environment and its biota in more recent time; finally, a chapter is devoted to data analysis and presentation. Where possible, the book is illustrated by well-documented and suitably relevant case histories and completed by a comprehensive index.

Much palaeoecological research is based on actualism and uniformitarianism (such as Schäfer, 1962); our interpretations of ancient marine ecosystems, at least those evolved during the last 550 Myr, being based where possible on modern analogues (see, for example, Brenchley and Harper 1998). Despite the weaknesses of the fossil record when matched with a living biota, our sampling strategies are, not surprisingly, very similar. Warncke provides a very readable and well-structured, state-of-the-art journey through this key area of investigative science. He also presents strong arguments why biologists must adopt field-based strategies if we are to understand modern ecosystems. Fossils were once-living animals and plants, in Ager's (1963, p. vii) words, ‘….their lives were a continuous battle with their environments. Their story is the essential prelude to the fleeting present and the unknown future’. Palaeontologists, too, must continue to collect and analyse field data, with the newest methodologies and technologies, if we are to fully understand the evolution of the planet's ecosystems through deep time. Field Biology is a useful textbook for anyone investigating living and fossil communities and ecosystems.


  1. Top of page
  • Ager, D.V. 1963. Principles of Paleoecology. McGraw-Hill Book Company: New York.
  • Brenchley, P.J., Harper, D.A.T. 1998. Palaeoecology: Environments, Ecosystems and Evolution. Chapman and Hall: London.
  • Schäfer, W. 1962. Akuto-Palaöntologie nach studien in der Nordsee. Waldemar Kramer, Frankfurt-am-Main.