Greenland, D., Goodin, D.G. & Smith, R.C. (eds) ( 2003 ) Climate variability and ecosystem response at long-term ecological research sites . The Long-Term Ecological Research Network Series . Oxford University Press , Oxford, UK . xvii + 459 pp . , figs, tables, line diagrams, halftones, index. Hardback: price £54.00 , ISBN 0-19-515059-7 .

The goal of the Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) programme is to document, analyse and interpret ecological processes, patterns and phenomena that occur over long temporal and large spatial scales. This book is both a timely and a bold attempt to address the LTER mission by synthesizing how one of the most fundamental drivers of ecosystem change, climate variability, has influenced ecosystems within the LTER network. The fourth of seven books in the LTER series, this volume is the most inclusive in terms of ecosystem representation and the variety of research questions addressed. Indeed, Climate variability and ecosystem response at long-term ecological research sites is as extensive as the LTER network itself. The chapters cover a broad range of temporal scales — from single storms to climate change during the Holocene, and spatial scales — from a single arctic lake to the entire LTER network of 24 (now 26) sites spanning the United States, the Caribbean and Antarctica. The majority of the chapters consider systems represented by established and well-known LTER sites, while several link patterns and processes across multiple sites or adopt a regional perspective (e.g. the ‘north-central’ region of the United States). Two chapters focus only on climate variability, with no explicit consideration of ecosystem responses.

With a near-equal treatment of both climatology and ecology (and a smattering of hydrology), this book should also appeal to scientists outside the ecological community. Anyone looking for a broad overview of how various ecosystems respond to climatic perturbation, or of the LTER network in general, will be pleased with the 19 ‘question-orientated’ chapters. In contrast, those seeking detailed, multi-faceted analysis of a particular ecological system may be frustrated by the relative breadth of the book. Nonetheless, the text is ripe with thought-provoking science and it highlights some of the major research questions being pursued within the LTER network. In this sense, the book will benefit both scientists and students considering research projects at LTER sites.

The book succeeds on several fronts, but most prominently in its ability to address a multitude of scales and ecosystems and their responses in a cohesive fashion. It does so by interpreting studies in terms of seven well-considered, framework questions developed a priori. The first framework question quantifies the climate variability under investigation, while the remaining six address the nature of the response of the ecosystem to this variability. Each chapter addresses implicitly or explicitly at least one of the framework questions. The result is a coherent whole, not a scattered collection of case studies.

Although the content of the book is sound, its organization can confuse the reader. Chapters are organized into five sections, the first four according to increasing time-scales, from daily to yearly (Part I) to century to millennial (Part IV). The fifth section addresses ecosystem response at individual sites across multiple time-scales. As the editors readily admit, both climate and ecosystems are characterized, and influenced, by processes operating at many spatial and temporal scales, and therefore many of the chapters could have been placed into one or more sections. The book contains lengthy introductory and closing chapters, and each section (except Part V) begins and ends with a summary. Although this helps to link each section back to the framework questions, it also serves to make the book somewhat lengthy and repetitive (83 of 449 pages are introductory or synthesis).

The content of most chapters is largely descriptive, and there is little consideration of causal mechanisms per se. However, the descriptive and correlative nature of the research is tempered by a focus on cascading effects: while reading and contemplating these studies, one cannot help but envision enough manipulative field studies to fill several productive careers.

Implicit in every chapter is anthropogenic change in atmospheric chemistry and climate, which begs the question: how will ecosystems respond to future climates and climatic variability? Indeed, the preface of the book starts with the recognition that ‘Global climate change is a central issue facing the world today’. However, most chapters focus on past climates and ecosystems and rarely speculate on the future, although many provide the obligatory summary sentence calling for better understanding through additional research. In fact, the term ‘climate change’ is not listed in the nine-page index. As such, readers interested in a description of how ecosystems might respond to local, regional and global climate change should look elsewhere.

That said, the title and introductory chapter of the book clearly indicate a focus on the interface between climatic variability and ecosystem response. Moreover, the framework questions were designed to facilitate development of correlative models to predict the response of ecosystems to future climate variability more effectively. This approach requires the assumption that the response of ecosystems to future climate variability will be similar to responses exhibited in the past. Although the text does not address this assumption per se, it brings ecologists one step closer to understanding climatic drivers in a diverse array of ecosystems.