Ecology for the Strong, the Weak, and the Connoisseur


Keddy, P. A. Wetland Ecology: Principles and Conservation. 2000 . Cambridge University Press , New York . 627 pp. (613 + xiv). $39.95. ISBN 0-521-59989-X .

Finding time to review manuscripts for journals is difficult enough, but finding time for a book review is even more daunting. Yet I accepted the offer to review Paul Keddy's Wetland Ecology: Principles and Conservation because I was interested in seeing how he had chosen to develop a text in a subject area to which he has been a major contributor. I carried the book to Colorado this past summer with the goal of trying to find time to read it while on vacation. The atmosphere was perfect for the undertaking. I spent early mornings and some evenings reading while at the same time enjoying the views and sounds associated with the nearby Roaring Fork River, which included a variety of wetland-upland interactions such as migrating birds and feeding trout.

The task of reviewing the book was indeed pleasant, and I highly recommend it as a text for courses in wetland ecology ( both undergraduate and graduate) and believe that it would serve equally well as a text in other ecology courses. The field of ecology has become so vast and complex that it is difficult to develop texts for general courses on the subject. This book has enough ecology basics to serve as such, as long as other materials are introduced at appropriate times.

In the preface, Keddy clearly states his objectives, one of which he draws from Bernard Shaw: “to impress the strong, intimidate the weak, and tickle the connoisseur.” Keddy has succeeded. He offers a thorough review of the field of wetland ecology and uses a broad range of references from the global literature to support his commentary. He takes a theoretical (i.e., experimental) approach to the subject. The strong should appreciate these two elements. Intimidation of the weak is accomplished through the broad depth of knowledge and synthesis Keddy demonstrates throughout the book, as well as the difficult questions he poses. The book should also tickle the connoisseur, mostly because of the style of writing. Keddy provides easy transitions between subjects and he clearly states his opinions to let the readers know what is and is not going to be covered in each section. Keddy even includes a sociological comment (occupied Tibet) and adds a new term (“Balkanized realm of ecology”) to the vernacular. No book is without fault (and errors), however, so these also must be pointed out, even though most are minor and could have been eliminated with more careful proofreading.

The book is organized logically. Keddy begins with an overview of wetlands then proceeds to patterns and processes. In chapter 2 he relies heavily on his knowledge of shoreline vegetation to set the tone for the experimental approach he believes so important to the understanding of ecological processes and patterns. Chapter 3, “Diversity,” is a continuation of the theme Keddy develops in the previous chapter. It is important because he uses the diversity issue to emphasize that we have a long way to go before we can adequately use ecological information for purposes of management. Part II, “Factors Controlling Properties of Wetlands,” is composed of chapters 4–9 ( hydrology, nutrient status, disturbance, competition, herbivory, and burial ). These chapters are well written and form the heart of the book. They are the parts that everyone should read if they want a better understanding of how wetlands function. Part III, “The Path Forward,” develops the conservation and restoration theme. Chapter 10, “Wetland Restoration: Assembly Rules in the Service of Conservation,” sets the tone for the section; chapter 11, “A Functional Approach,” which contains Keddy's thoughts on how the complexity of ecological systems might be simplified into functions that can be used in management. Chapter 12, “Wetland Conservation, Management and Research,” brings the book to a suitable conclusion.

Section III, although based on a sound approach and synthesis, is the one I found somewhat lacking. I say this because I have been involved in one of the ongoing attempts—the hydrogeomorphic approach—to develop a system that can be used to assess wetland ecosystem functions and to provide tools for ecologically based wetland management (e.g., decision-making, restoration, creation). Wetland assessment is a difficult matter, and Keddy might have developed this issue further by describing other approaches. The approach Keddy develops and proposes is based on the need to work especially hard toward two goals: “protecting representative ecosystems and maintaining ecological function” (p. 495). The first of the two, although admirable, is not likely to be reached, at least in the United States. My guess is that it will be difficult to conserve additional large wetland areas (but the new ecoregional approach of The Nature Conservancy should help) and that more emphasis should be given to restoration of wetlands and, especially, landscapes with wetlands. More than 50% of U.S. wetlands have been lost, and given the importance of wetlands in landscape functioning, Keddy could have placed more emphasis on wetland restoration and wetland protection through thoughtful management of nonwetland habitats.

I also wonder if the “assembly rules” approach can be adapted easily to practical matters associated with wetland assessment and restoration. The approach supported by Keddy clearly is ecologically sound. But I doubt if we have sufficient time to collect an adequate amount of information for enough wetland plant species in enough different types of wetlands for his approach to provide solutions to our immediate management and conservation problems. Even if sufficient data were available, one still needs to understand and quantify the underlying structural characteristics of wetland ecosystems in order to develop successful restoration guidelines. This type of information is only indirectly provided by the approach suggested by Keddy.

I found the book readable, but it was annoying to regularly encounter errors and inconsistencies that could have been caught by more careful proofreading. I offer only a few examples from the list I compiled. In some instances, we find a comma between author's names and dates, but in others the comma is not present (e.g., page 230). More effort might have been made to provide consistency and care in the use of figures rather than cutting and pasting from other publications. The print quality of Fig. 2.13 is poor in my copy of the book. More cutting and pasting seems to have occurred in Fig. 4.11. The top part of the figure has species names in italics, but they are underlined in the bottom part of the figure. A few other figures (e.g., Figure 4.13) are of poor quality and seem to be of little consequence. As examples of proofreading problems, page 351 refers to Figures 6.8 and 6.9, but should they not be 7.10 and 7.11? The same error appears again on page 353. Near the bottom of page 381, unmanaged appears twice in a sentence and one of them should be managed.

Finally, I liked the approach Keddy uses to provide closure to various parts of the book. A good example is on page 194, a summary of the previous pages dealing with wetlands and water-level fluctuations. Unfortunately, this approach is not used consistently. For example, the sections on fish, birds, amphibians (pages 129–138) would have benefited from similar summaries. The bottom line, however, is that wading through the relatively few errors and inconsistencies (which can be corrected in the second edition) is worth the effort, because Keddy has brought together a wealth of information and has presented it in a manner that makes for good reading. The book is a wonderful compliment to the wetland standard established by Mitsch and Gosselink (1993). Wetland Ecology is thought-provoking and should provide advisers and students with numerous discussion topics for years to come.