No. 49, May/June 2001
Linkages between Climate Change and Desertification
compiled and annotated by Katherine Waser
Northwest arid lands: An introduction to the Columbia Basin Shrub-Steppe,
by Georganne O'Connor and Karen Wieda.
This book, aimed at a general rather than a specialist audience, is an introduction and guide to the shrub-steppe region of eastern Washington state and north-central Oregon. Intended as a guide "to carry around in your pocket," it focuses specifically on the plants, animals and geology of the lower Columbia River basin. Rather than being comprehensive, it aims to present the essence of what is currently known about the area. Separate sections cover shrub-steppe vegetation; river and stream vegetation; wildlife and fish; and geology and soils.
Much of the information in the book was distilled from work done by researchers from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. Because the authors want to show what led these scientists to their work, they include several brief sketches of the scientists' lives, their visions and their voices. These add an interesting dimension to the volume. The authors also include numerous sidebars that contain nuggets of information likely to be of interest to the general reader.
Several appendices are included, providing photographs of common plants and animals of the region; maps; an annotated list of places to visit; a geologic "travel log"; a glossary; and a bibliography of suggested further readings. An extensive index is also included in this useful compendium of information about a relatively little-known region of North America's drylands.
Genes in the field: On-farm conservation of crop diversity, edited
by Stephen B. Brush.
The loss of genetic diversity in crops is an increasingly major concern. Throughout much of the 20th century, attempts to preserve this genetic diversity have focused on ex situ conservation efforts. Increasingly being recognized is the importance of in situ conservation, carried out by farmers themselves, as an adjunct to ex situ conservation.
This collection of papers focuses on agricultural conservation and diversity issues around the world. Its general approach is to encourage conservation of diversity within cultivated crops--that is, diversity of landraces. This focus is carried out throughout all four sections of the book. Section one comprises an extensive chapter focusing on issues of in situ conservation. Section 2 comprises another extensive chapter covering the genetic structure of crop landraces and the challenges of conserving them in situ. Section 3 presents four case studies from the Middle East, Ethiopia and Mexico, and Section 4 focuses on policy and institutional issues. Each chapter includes references; a comprehensive index is also provided.
This interesting and useful volume can potentially be ordered from any of the three co-publishers.
From Lewis Publishers (an imprint of CRC Press), the book is available for US$49.95. Because CRC Press has offices in so many countries, the best way to contact them is by email or on the web. Contact:
From IDRC, the book is available for US$35.00. Contact:
From IPRGRI, the book may be requested free of charge by libraries of national programs, gene banks, university departments, research units, etc. To request a copy, send an email to:
Ethnopedology in a worldwide perspective: An annotated bibliography,
by Narcisco Barrera-Bassols and J. Alfred Zinck.
The success or failure of human agriculture ultimately depends on soil fertility. This has always been so, and has led over the centuries to the development of numerous ethnopedological systems--that is, systems of "knowledge by local populations about soils and their management." Yet this knowledge has largely been ignored by "modern, industrial agriculturalists, land palnners and even environmentalists." This annotated bibliography, with some 900 references and abstracts on ethnopedology, takes an important step towards bridging this gap. It recognizes the important role that indigenous ecological knowledge, such as ethnopedology, can being to natural resources management, desertification mitigation activities, and promotion of sustainable agriculture and rural development.
The book begins with a general conceptual overview of ethnopedology, covering the scope of ethnopedological research, typical research approaches used, findings and research trends, and the status of ethnopedological studies. Following this is a chapter that clearly explains the bibliography and its organization. Entries are arranged geographically, first globally, then by continent, and within each continent by country. (Of interest to ALN readers is that about 66% of the ethnopedological studies referred to in this bibliography concern arid and semi-arid regions.) Extensive indices also provide access not only by geography but also by author, agroecological zone, ethnic people, or by one of six broad thematic categories.
The authors have made a significant effort in this volume to cover not only mainstream publications, but also research that has only been reported in ephemeral or "grey" literature. Also adding greatly to the utility of this bibliography is that about 60% of the documents listed can be requested either from the ITC library in Enschede, the Netherlands, or from the Insituto de Ecologia in Xalapa, Veracruz, Mexico.
Cape plants: A Conspectus of the Cape flora of South Africa, by
Peter Goldblatt & John Manning. Strelitzia 9(2000).
With an estimated 9,000 species of vascular plants, almost 69% of which are endemic, the Cape Region of South Africa is unusually rich in terms of biodiversity. Not only is this species richness striking in comparison with the rest of Africa; the flora's composition is striking in comparison with the rest of the globe. This book (an issue of Strelitzia, an occasional publication of the NBI) aims to provide as much basic information on these plants as is possible to include in one volume. It opens with a brief overview of the Cape flora, considering the Cape's physical characteristics, its floristic composition and diversity (illustrated by 12 pages of color photographs), and reasons for this diversity. The overview is rounded out by an explanation of how to use the account of the flora itself.
The bulk of this Conspectus, appropriately enough, comprises the description of the Cape flora. In recognition of the last decade's huge advances in understanding of plant evolution and relationships among plant families, the family circumscriptions and classification system used are those recommended by the Angiosperm Phylogeny Group in 1988. Each species entry gives information on habit and morphology, flowering time, habitat, occurrence in phytogeographical region, and geographical distribution. Keys to the families and genera in the flora are provided as an aid to identification.
A final chapter focuses on formal taxonomy, outlining and explaining those nomenclatural changes that the authors felt were warranted on the basis of the recent advances in understanding mentioned above. A bibliography, an appendix of statistics, and an index round out this useful volume.
The following two books are available from:
Flora of the Gran Desierto and Rio Colorado Delta, by Richard S. Felger.
The Gran Desierto of northern Sonora, Mexico, is one of the hottest and driest regions of the Western Hemisphere. Yet, as attested to in this engaging and detailed volume, the region boasts a surprisingly diversity of habitats supporting a rich and diverse flora.
Dr. Felger has conducted research in the Gran Desierto for more than 25 years. In this book, he covers more than 565 species of plants, providing original diagnostic descriptions and innovative identification keys to the families, genera and species. Excellent line illustrations assist in plant identification, and common names of plants are given in English, Spanish, and O'odham.
The accessible style in which the book is written, and the extensive historical and ethnobotanical information it contains, will broaden its appeal beyond its core audience of botanists to a wide range of people who feel personal and/or professional enthusiasm for the Sonoran Desert. In addition, because of the region's location and its importance to desert conservation efforts (two of Mexico's Biosphere Preserves lie within the region), this work will have relevance for ecological restoration in deserts and arid wetlands worldwide.
The tropical deciduous forest of Alamos: Biodiversity of a threatened
ecosystem in Mexico, edited by Robert H. Robichaux and David A. Yetman.
In southern Sonora, Mexico, no more than a day's drive from the U.S. border, the foothills, cliffs and gorges of the Sierra Madre Occidental shelter a lush, tropical deciduous forest harboring trees, birds and plants more typically associated with latitudes much closer to the equator. This forest, with its rich biodiversity, has long provided the local indigenous populations (Mayo, Yaqui, Tarahumara, and Gaurijio) with sufficient resources for their traditional subsistence lifestyles.
Yet growing pressures from agribusinesses and increasing population are threatening this valuable ecosystem. Given these pressures, up-to-date and comprehensive information on the region, such as that provided in this book, is increasingly important. The book's seven sections contain contributions from 18 scholars that summarize the most recent scientific knowledge on this globally important, yet endangered biome.
The diversity of the area is illustrated by a comprehensive plant list for the Rio Cuchijaqui area. The diversity and distribution of the region's reptiles, amphibians, mammals and birds are also covered. Nor are the local human inhabitants left out: one section of the book discusses the Mayo people's use of various trees of the region; another discusses the varieties of domesticated plants developed over the centuries by indigenous farmers. Extensive appendices and reference lists enhance the information in each chapter. A list of contributors and an index complete the book.
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