The balancing act of conservation

1 10 2010

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Navjot Sodhi & Paul Ehrlich‘s book, Conservation Biology for All, has just been reviewed in Trends in Ecology and Evolution. I’ve blogged about the book before and our contributing chapter (The conservation biologist’s toolbox), so I’ll just copy the very supportive review here by Rosie Trevelyan.

Conservation Biology for All is a textbook that aims to be a one-stop shop for conservation education. The book is packed with information, is wide ranging, and includes most emerging issues that come under the umbrella of conservation biology today. Sodhi and Ehrlich have brought together a total of 75 experts from many disciplines to provide a smorgasbord of up-to-date conservation concepts and case studies. Leading conservation biologists contribute to every chapter either as authors of the main text or of the boxes that give real life examples of the conservation issue being covered. The boxes add hugely to the information included in each chapter, and many are well worth returning to on their own.

There are sixteen chapters, with the earlier ones covering more conceptual and historical issues and the later ones providing information that is more relevant to conservation practice. The first chapter is an incredibly detailed view of the history of conservation biology, which is followed by Gaston’s treatise on what is biodiversity. The later chapters tackle conservation problems more directly, drawing on case studies to illustrate the issues covered and showcase solutions. For example, Laurance looks at the changing drivers of forest loss. Peres, with contributions by Pauly, presents an analysis of overexploitation in different ecosystems and Simberloff gives an overview of invasive species. Pin Koh and Gardner’s excellent chapter ‘Conservation in human-modified landscapes’ followed by Claus et al.’s ‘The roles of people in conservation’ bring people firmly into both sides of the conservation equation both as causes of and solutions to biodiversity loss.

In the penultimate chapter, Rao and Ginsberg ‘cross the divide’ between the theory and reality of conservation. This offers an excellent conclusion to the book, drawing on material from preceding chapters and putting it into the context of practical conservation. It includes numerous and extremely well chosen case studies. Rao and Ginsberg discuss the shortcomings of conservation science when tackling important broader issues, such as capacity development, social marketing and policy. Like many of the preceding chapters, the most important message here is that conservation is complex, and its solutions are often specific to each situation. This, of course, makes writing a one-stop text book very challenging since one needs to incorporate examples of almost every situation to ensure that the readership can find something applicable in practice. Although I said the chapter is a good conclusion, it is in fact followed by one more chapter which covers the principles of designing conservation studies and analyzing biological data. I would have finished the book with the message that the most pressing challenges of conservation are meeting peoples’ needs while wisely using natural resources, rather than with a toolbox for further scientific studies which would have fitted better earlier in the book. This, however, is a minor niggle.

I liked the format of providing reading lists and relevant websites at the end of each chapter in addition to the references cited. The students I work with from less developed countries often tell me that they find it difficult to access literature, so the reading lists that use websites and mainstream journal articles that can be found on the web, rather than books, will be very much appreciated.

Does the book live up to its ‘for all’ title? In its entirety it does, and I challenge any reader not to find something useful and relevant in it. One or two chapters focus rather heavily on the history of (western) conservation, yet my experience is that today’s young conservation professionals are more concerned with looking forwards than backwards. Some chapters are arguably rather narrow in their geographic scope in both subject matter and recommended reading matter. It is likely that students based outside these regions will find the chapters somewhat removed from the reality of conservation in their own country, although they will still gain insights into conservation issues generally. None of this detracts from the book, only that some parts are more ‘for all’ than others. Perhaps this is a reflection of the paradox of conservation. In order to succeed, conservation needs a whole range of specific conservation solutions to meet different ecological and political situations. Whereas Conservation Biology for All is a good place to find out about the range that is currently out there, conservation biology as a discipline is still dominated by western scientists, if dominance is measured by articles published and chapters written. There are a large number of non-western biologists and practitioners delivering successful conservation projects against a background of competing political and economic concerns. Whereas some members of this group have contributed to the book, there are still many more out there from whom we need to hear in order to redress the balance.


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20 01 2011
CJAB

This book is now available free to download here.

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