Long-Term Perspectives on Forest Biodiversity


Dallmeier, F. & J. A. Cominsky Forest Biodiversity Research, Monitoring and Modeling: Conceptual Background and Old World Case Studies. Man and the Biosphere Series. Volume 20. , editors. 1998 . Parthenon Publishing Group , Pearl River, New York, and UNESCO, Paris . 671 pp. $95.00. ISBN 1-85070-963-7 . Parthenon. UNESCO ISBN 92-3-1034081-1.

Forest Biodiversity in North, Central and South America, and the Caribbean: Research and Monitoring. Man and the Biosphere Series. Volume 21. Dallmeier, F., and J. A. Cominsky, editors. 1998. Parthenon Publishing Group, Pearl River, New York, and UNESCO, Paris. 768 pp. $95.00. Parthenon ISBN 1–85070–964–5. UNESCO ISBN 92–3–103409–X.

In May of 1995, 300 specialists in forest ecology came together in Washington, D.C. Their objective was to share the knowledge they had gained through research in long-term inventory plots in protected forest areas around the globe. These plots are part of a research and training program organized under the auspices of the Smithsonian Institution/Man and the Biosphere (SI / MAB) Biological Diversity Program. The material presented at this meeting was compiled to create a two-volume set. The resulting books are well produced, carefully edited, and contain a valuable collection of case studies based on primary data and assessments of methodological approaches to problems in forest ecology.

The SI / MAB Biological Diversity Program was founded in 1987 with the dual aims of facilitating the documentation of plant diversity and providing long-term data on the demographics of rain-forest trees. This organization's main objectives are to support the development of an information base for research and education and to contribute to the conservation and management of protected areas throughout the world. The long-term ecological research plots included in the organization's network are primarily, though not exclusively, located in tropical forest sites, and these two books reflect that bias.

Forest Biodiversity Research, Monitoring and Modeling: Conceptual Background and Old World Case Studies is composed of 38 chapters on forest tree ecology organized in five major sections. The second volume, Forest Biodiversity in North, Central and South America, and the Caribbean: Research and Monitoring, focuses on forests of the New World. In this volume, the 40 chapters are not organized into sections, making the information less accessible. The first volume is particularly valuable because it contains the thoughts and ideas of many of the world's most highly respected forest ecologists. This volume also includes the SI / MAB protocols for monitoring projects and outlines monitoring projects in Europe. These chapters lay out criteria for the establishment of research objectives, sampling designs, data management and analysis, and evaluation. Both volumes address various approaches to the development of regional and global networks to facilitate the exchange of information about the ecology of forest sites.

Additional topics addressed in the first volume include an overview of the major conceptual issues concerning diversity in Neotropical tree communities; the work of the Center for Tropical Forest Science of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute; satellite imagery, ground-truthing, and the production of forests maps; the design and assessment of biodiversity monitoring programs; the statistical methods and issues involved in the assessment of forest structure, diversity and dynamics within and across research sites; a comparison of rapid vegetation assessment techniques; the use of long-term forest dynamics as an indicator of global climate change; and the implications of seed-dispersal strategies for forest structure and regeneration following disturbance. Papers in the second volume address the effects of large-scale disturbances on Caribbean and Mexican forests, ethnobotany, and the spatial distribution of vegetation. In addition to studies of trees, this volume also includes chapters on other vascular plants, amphibians, snails, and Neotropical migrant birds.

The remaining portions of both books are composed primarily of case studies from Africa, Australia, and the Asia-Pacific region (Volume 20), and the Americas and the Caribbean (Volume 21). These chapters report on floristic composition and structure, forest dynamics, and assessment of diversity. They provide detailed descriptions of the methodologies employed and describe the results of on-going research at long-established sites.

Both volumes present a wealth of information on some of our best-studied, long-term forest research sites and thus will be helpful references. Whereas some chapters update or summarize previously published information, many provide descriptions of studies that are not available elsewhere. The preface states that the knowledge gathered by these scientists can be immensely helpful to resource managers and decision-makers, and I concur. I suspect, however, that the level and organization of the material would be less appealing to a non academic audience. Managers would benefit from a distilled version of the information contained in these books, with a strong emphasis on the practical implications of the research. I recommend these books primarily for researchers and students who are working in forest ecology. These volumes provide an excellent overview of the scope and depth of forest biodiversity research currently underway.