Ecological and Behavioral Methods for the Study of Bats by T.H. Kunz & S. Parsons . 2nd Edition . 2009 . Baltimore : Johns Hopkins University Press . 901 pp. ISBN : 978-0801891472 . £52 .

Since the first edition appeared in 1988, it is likely that no other bat book has been cited more often than Ecological and Behavioral Methods for the Study of Bats, which included 29 chapters from 35 authors, and was edited by the doyen of American bat biologists, Tom Kunz. This is perhaps not surprising in view of the fact that primary papers describing methods are often cited more than scientists' cherished blue skies discoveries! The book was also well-timed, coinciding with a steep increase in research on all aspects of bat biology.

In the intervening decades, new methodologies have been applied to bats, involving molecular techniques, biomechanics, functional morphology and hormone micro-assay. In addition, relatively new concepts have encompassed bats – there was little talk of biodiversity in the nineteen-eighties!

In this totally new edition, with a different publisher, Kunz has been joined as co-editor by Stuart Parsons, who works at the leading edge of the analysis of echolocation calls. The number of chapters has increased – there are half as many again, the number of contributing authors has more than doubled, and as a healthy sign of new recruits to the study of bat biology, fewer than 10% of the present authors contributed to the first edition. The chapters are organised into eleven sections and those on functional morphology, genetics and evolution, population ecology and substance analysis, with over a dozen chapters between them, are entirely new. There is also a chapter on methods of assessing diseases in bats, an increasingly important subject as new ones emerge.

It is rather odd however to find the necessary and useful chapter on how to preserve specimens appearing as only one of two in the section on Conservation, since donors in this area are often opposed to killing! The fact that another bat –Pipistrellus murrayi on Christmas Island in the Pacific – has just gone extinct, raises the question of whether more material should have been included in this section, particularly detailed case histories of the few documented conservation successes, like bringing Pteropus voeltzkowi back from the brink of extinction on Pemba Island in the Western Indian Ocean. These are minor cavils however about a book which will be indispensable for field and laboratory studies on bats for decades to come.

Bats are the second largest order of mammals with ca.1200 species, and in some countries, including the UK, they are the most important contributors to mammalian biodiversity. The ever increasing number of studies on these unique mammals now support an annual North American symposium, triennial international and European conferences as well as various ad-hoc international meetings. So there is an increasing number of masters and doctoral students (and their supervisors!) in the developed world requiring up-to-date information on methods and techniques. They will find it here, ranging from bench-top recipes to holistic overviews. The same applies to the developing world and here lies a problem. At a current online price of around £40, and the cost of shipping a two kilo package to countries where the postal system often requires the use of a courier, the book will be most difficult to obtain where it is most needed – in many parts of the developing world. One example will suffice. A few years ago Nepal emerged from a Maoist insurgency and as students acquired the freedom of movement they had so long been denied, there has been an explosion of interest in field work on bats but with few resources to guide them, they are desperate for ‘how to do it’ literature.

The Gratis Books Scheme, the brainchild of Prof W. J. Sutherland, now at Cambridge University, is operated by the British Ecological Society and the Natural History Book Service, and distributes half a dozen titles in the Techniques in Ecology and Conservation series to applicants from the developing world, including over 3000 copies of Sutherland's Conservation Handbook. It would be a great step forward if such a brilliant scheme could be extended to the US. This is particularly important for the second edition of Ecological and Behavioral Methods, which in view of its large size, is unlikely to follow its predecessor into paperback. Before the collapse of Russian communism, one of my Dutch colleagues had a network of couriers who took, inter alia, paperback copies of the first edition of this book to bat biologists behind the Iron Curtain. That is no longer necessary but my review copy has already been couriered to Madagascar!