The Conservation Status of Chamaleo Chamaeleon in Southern Spain


Mellado, J., Giménez, L., Gómez, J.J. & Sanjuán, M. (2001) El camaleón en Andalucía: Distribución actual y amenazas para su supervivencia. Fundación Alcalde Zoilo Ruiz-Mateos, Rota, Spain. 147 pp, tables, figs, plates, maps. Price €15.02 + postage charge, ISBN 8487960316. (Orders for copies of the book should be made to: Juan Pedro Caballero, Fundación Alcalde Zoilo Ruiz-Mateos, Calle Charco, 15. Rota. 11520. Cádiz, Spain. Tel. +34 956810411. Fax: +34 956813450.). Language: Spanish.

Chamaeleo chamaeleon has an extremely limited distribution in Europe. Lately there has been some interest in the origin and distribution of the European populations, as well as in the conservation efforts that may be needed. When we received the above-mentioned book, we looked forward to a comprehensive study of C. chamaeleon, in what is the species’ largest area of distribution in Europe. Unfortunately, the book did not live up to our expectations. In the first part of the book, much effort is expended on an intricate and interesting problem for field biologists: how can one be sure that the absence of specimens reflects a true absence, and not just a failure of researchers to detect any presence? The authors develop a number of indices, adapted to their different census methods, and the development of these methods is presented at length. The authors also try to determine what the habitat preference of C. chamaeleon is. Different methods of sampling and calculations of apparent abundance are compared and used. The second part of the text, on distribution and road mortality, contains useful data and comprehensive distribution maps. The final part of the book deals with translocations of specimens within Andalucía and the important issue of changing land use, in relation to threats to the population's survival. We do appreciate the critical and objective leitmotif that led the authors to (i) develop their own indices to control for sampling errors, etc.; (ii) perform thorough statistical testing (though this is overdone sometimes in descriptive sections); (iii) analyse changes in land use during the last century; and (iv) describe in detail the sampling effort. The main problem with this book is the failure to address a particular audience. The authors explain the evolution of their text, from its original form as a report to a monograph, but they do not seem to have considered what potential audience the book might have. A nonscholar with a general interest in C. chamaeleon will find the tables, the abundant, sometimes flawed statistics and the obscure syntax hard to follow. A professional biologist will probably find some of the text unnecessary and trivial data obscuring the more interesting parts of the study. An English summary at the end of each chapter would have greatly improved the accessibility for non-Spanish speakers.

The language used in the book is sometimes unnecessarily complicated. The lengthy writing, containing a staggering amount of typographical errors, unconventional citations and an odd confusion of commas and dots in decimals, makes it hard to focus on the meaning of the text. Moreover, though the sarcasm used can be entertaining, it can also disrupt the reading.

Our third, more severe criticism concerns the structure and the unbalanced effort devoted to the different topics in the book. For instance, the practical recommendations for management are entirely unconnected to the main body of the text: they appear as an appended report from 1996, not updated with the results presented in the book. From the title, one would expect more emphasis on conservation. We feel that, although the relative importance of the different threats is established in the Conclusions, the previous chapters do not argue the case in a clear way, giving the reader an ambiguous impression. For instance, in the text, road deaths are considered not to be detrimental to the populations, and yet the authors add three pages of appendices evaluating different methods of decreasing them. In any new edition, an effort should be made to link the different parts of the book and thereby clarify the line of reasoning. There are more question marks, such as the unsupported statement that the chameleons of southern Spain form a metapopulation, the awkward description of GIS methods in the Introduction, and the way ‘GTM’ (GMT) is equated to solar time in the sampling protocol. Some of the illustrations are more artistic than descriptive, and some maps and figures need more explanatory text. However, a more positive review of this book has been made by Suarez (2002), to which readers wishing to compare opinions may refer. Is this a useful book? The answer is yes, but mainly to those readers who know what it is they are looking for and have a critical view on the use of statistics. The maps give a good estimate of the total distribution of C. chamaeleon in southern Spain in the 1990s and the data on activity, sex ratio, etc., may be useful. The final recommendations seem reasonable and the discussion on current conservation measures and politics is interesting.