Neotropical Mammalogy by Popular Demand


Mammals of the Neotropics. 3. The Central Neotropics: Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Brazil. Eisenberg, J. F., and K. H. Redford . 1999 . University of Chicago Press , Chicago . 609 pp. $80.00 (hardcover) . ISBN 0-226-19541-4 . $40.00 (paperback). ISBN 0–226–19542–2.

This book was published, according to its authors and editors, in response to popular demand. After the success of two previous volumes that dealt with the so-called “Northern Neotropics” ( Panama, Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname, and French Guyana) and with the “Southern Cone” (Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay), many were interested in a book focusing on the South American region not covered in the preceding books. This new volume concentrates on the “Central Neotropics”—Brazil, Ecuador, Perú, and Bolivia—an enormous and still cursorily known area. It comprises, for instance, most of the Amazon region; large parts of the Andes; the Cerrado, Caatinga, and Atlantic forest regions in Brazil; and part of South America's Pacific coast (including a special reference to the Galapagos and other islands, on both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans). These are diverse areas, still covered mostly by natural vegetation (with the exception of the Brazilian Atlantic region and a few other areas, which are highly threatened).

The authors' purpose was to capture the state of the knowledge of mammals in this remarkable region at the end of the twentieth century. The structure of the book is similar to that of the previous volumes. An introductory chapter is followed by sections on biogeographic and historical issues, taxonomic accounts, and mammalian community ecology. The introductory chapter briefly describes the study region and the history of mammal collecting in the area. The second section of the book, with contributions by David Webb, Alceu Rancy, and Castor Cartelle, reviews Plio-Pleistocene South American mammalian faunas, emphasizing the western Amazon and the Cerrado and Caatinga ecosystems of eastern Brazil, placing them in an evolutionary and ecogeographic time frame. Prominent topics in these chapters are the succession of faunas, the evolution in isolation of South American Plio-Pleistocene faunas, the great American faunal interchange, and evidence against the existence of Pleistocene rainforest refugia in South America. Hypotheses of climatic changes are favored over the possible responsibility of humans for Pleistocene extinctions.

The core of the book (473 out of 609 pages) is a section of species accounts, with one chapter for each mammalian order. There are brief diagnoses for suprageneric taxa and identification keys for some bat and rodent genera. In all, more than 650 species are considered, a mammoth task. Species accounts generally include descriptions, information on distribution, life-history parameters, ecology, and, in some cases, measurements and taxonomic comments. Coverage is highly variable, reflecting our poor knowledge of the biology of many species. The authors confess that most of the species are already covered in the first two volumes of the series, and that accounts are presented in an abbreviated style. Coverage of recent (post–1990) literature is uneven, and sometimes relevant information is not included in the accounts. A useful appendix incorporates information on taxonomic changes since the production of previous volumes. Beautiful color and black-and-white plates prepared by Fiona Reid, and skull diagrams for some genera, complement the accounts. Maps of the distribution of most species in the study area also are included. These maps use dots to indicate some sites where the species are known, but no details on the actual localities are mentioned. National limits, main rivers, and some elevational contour lines are included as references, but it is sometimes difficult to differentiate them.

I found the final section of the book particularly interesting. Its scope goes far beyond the geographic focus of the book, and it provides information relevant to all the Neotropics. Eisenberg starts by considering patterns in the community structure of Neotropical mammals, emphasizing rodents and marsupials and mammal diversity in environmental gradients. He also discusses the problems of and options for obtaining high-quality and complete species inventories in the tropics. da Fonseca, Herrmann, and Leite examine macrogeographical patterns of Brazilian mammals. They focus on distribution and area-size patterns, body-weight frequency distributions, feeding and locomotor niche relationships, and zoogeographical affinities at a biome level. These authors advance suggestions concerning the history and conservation of this fauna. Peres explores the organization and guild structure of nonvolant mammal communities in different Amazonian forest types. He examines how regional differences in habitat structure, diversity, and productivity affect mammal abundance, and he compares community patterns in the Amazon with those of forests elsewhere in the Neotropics. Eisenberg concludes with a chapter in which he examines historical aspects of the composition of South American mammalian fauna. He looks at the particular case of invaders from North America, with special reference to rodents. He also reviews the amazing contemporary mammal species richness in South America and how a large proportion of world species are found in that region.

If one is interested in a book about the conservation of Neotropical mammals, this is not the work to look at, because it makes only passing remarks on this subject. Nevertheless, it provides a wealth of information that could be extremely useful for those working on the conservation of mammals in the Neotropics. It is almost unique among books produced in more affluent countries in that invited contributors, with one exception, are native to the study region. This is a recognition of the high-quality work undertaken by local scientists and an example that should be followed much more often in future books. A list of addresses of contributors to the book would have been useful.

Everyone interested in Neotropical mammals should have access to this book, and to the entire series. A Spanish and Portuguese version would be most useful so that it could properly reach its main audience. Unfortunately, the price is not affordable for many people, or even institutional libraries in Latin America. Also, the book is not readily available for purchase in the Neotropics. Better means to facilitate access in Latin America to this important opus should be found. Otherwise, the enormous effort invested in its production will not reach its full value. A fourth volume on Neotropical mammals, covering Mesoamerica, is in the making. I am looking forward to its publication.