Ecology & Nat Hist 2021

Wilkinson, D.M., 2021. Ecology and Natural History. The New Naturalist Library. No. 143 in the series. 368pp. ISBN 978-0-00-829363-5  9 780008 293635.   Review.

142 titles of this esteemed series of New Naturalists Library (NNL) have never used the word ecology in the title, but it has been fundamental to the discussion of many. The book reminds me of a classic work, Ecology of the English Chalk (C. J. Smith, 1980. Academic Press, 573pp) which is much longer, and which Wilkinson does not mention; there is just one reference to chalk in the index which is surprising.  Prof. Wilkinson approaches his new book from a wide angle of interests in the living world, since he is a Reader in environmental sciences at Liverpool John Moores University, and visiting professor in ecology at University of Lincoln and honorary research fellow in archaeology at the University of Nottingham.  His published works range from bacteria to dinosaurs.  So how does he put together a book on ecology and natural history of the British Isles?  Possibly very selectively.  Indeed, this is the case, the author says that it written very much in the same manner as Prof Sam Berry in his Inheritance and Natural History (No. 61) i.e. as his final year lectures without the mathematics. Wilkinson’s book provides ‘something more accessible, while maintaining scientific rigour.’ First he describes what is ecology, so he starts the bar low. Some of his eleven chapters are on particular places such as Windermere, Peak District, Cairngorms, Wicken Fen, Snowdonia’s Cwm Idwal, Rothamsted and Wytham Woods (two chapters no less), and who would blame him, for some of these are classic sites where lots of students have worked and data for degrees have been gathered and much research material is available. There is also a chapter on Gilbert White’s swifts at Selborne,  Grime’s work on snails, but nothing on Berry’s work on small mammals or Kettlewell’s work on changing moth colours, and nothing on the flora of nunataks. Climate change figures throughout the chapters and discussions, and there are colour photographs of Bass Rock showing variable size of the gannetry.  There is a reproduction of one of Bewick’s prints in the period of the Little Ice Age of someone trudging through the snow. Change is an external factor that even Darwin acknowledged altered the ecology; then and now it still is the climate governing ecological impact. The author engages us with the way that algae and bacteria (one of the author’s favourite subjects) are part of the ecology of habitats, to this has to be considered in context of the botany of arctic-alpine habitats in Wales and Scotland, to the research plots of Wicken, where the ecology is influenced by man, to diminishing meadows. When Wilkinson is talking about invasive plant species I am reminded of Richard Mabey’s Weeds (1996, Profile Books. 324pp) which is a good in-depth read of the subject. As is customary with this NNL series of books, this volume has lots of colour photographs (generally good), references, and a general and species index. This is not a gloom and doom book (just the last chapter on man’s impact), it’s ecology to the core and a good read. It is pity that the word ‘ecology’ took so long to get its name on the front cover the New Naturalists series. At least ‘conservation’ had a head start on ‘ecology’.

Butterflies of Serra Dos Orgaos, 2020

Bizarro, J. and Martin, A., 2020. A Guide to the Butterflies of the Serra Dos Orgaos, South-eastern Brazil. REGUA publications. ISBN: 978-0-9568291-2-2  389pp  Review

As guide books go, this is not one for the pocket, but this is a magnificent tome (20x24cm) which depicts in perfect colour all the known butterflies of this part of SE Brazil. It is in English, but if it were in Portugese as well it would be twice as long.

The book includes a total of 923 species of butterfly recorded to date from the Serra Dos Orgaos in the State of Rio de Janeiro.  This includes the very difficult skippers (120 species) which have only been given general descriptions. That leaves 803 butterfly species are described completely with Scientific and Common names, descriptions, similar species, distribution and ecology. There are 58 species which are listed as Threatened in Brazil, and 14 of these which are found in the area, are included too. There is so much natural habitat in the REGUA lowlands to the ridge line of the Organ Mountains (2,260 m) to be explored that many more butterfly species will be discovered. Butterfly lovers wanting to discover new butterfly species need to head for the REGUA reserve.  Also included in the book are 5 butterfly species that are waiting to be described and named, one Symmachia sp. three satyrs and one Gorgythion skipper.

The authors include Dr Jorge Bizarro with a background in medical entomology and a passion for butterflies, and Alan Martin FLS, a renowned ornithologist and professional accountant who has fully embraced an enthusiasm for lepidoptera with a background in helping some of the leading UK and global conservation NGOs.  Other publications from REGUA include ‘A Guide to Hawkmoths of the Serra dos Orgaos’ in 2011 and ‘A Guide to Dragonflies and Damselflies of the Serra dos Orgaos’ in    and ‘A guide to Birds of the Serra dos Orgaos’ in 2015. So this is REGUA’s fourth publication, a credit to their professional output.

Extensive field work carried out by the authors and their many colleagues at the field station in REGUA has enabled this comprehensive compilation of butterflies of the area. It is in an area that Charles Darwin visited, and it still offers naturalists alike the opportunity to explore, discover and describe wildlife. The illustrations in the book, some 88 plates are key to identifying the species, all reproduced in superb colour, 15 species a page, almost all mostly shot in the wild. The range and diversity is stunning, but then the quality of the hinterland of REGUA is of perfect Atlantic Rainforest, a rare and declining habitat recognised as being in the top five global biodiversity hotspots in the world; there is only 16% of Atlantic rainforest left (it used to stretch south from the mouth of the Amazon), and REGUA with its 18,000 acres seeks to conserve (and enhance with native plantings – over 624,000 trees planted to date) what is left.  Bringing back the native flora is key to supporting and expanding the potential of butterflies and moths.  The new acres of wetlands increases the biodiversity of insects across many orders of insects including lepidoptera.

The guide will be immensely useful to visitors to these neotropical tropical habitats in Rio de Janeiro state and all those who wish to start identifying from their digital images.  As stated, the book is too large to have in a knapsack (it is over 1.1kg) but a copy needs to be in all field schools, field labs, libraries and university ecology and conservation departments, as a key reference book.

There is a Glossary, Latin Name Index, additional reading and references, and the list of Threatened species. This is a remarkable compilation and sets an important milestone in butterfly research in this wonderful part of the world.

VISIT    Reserva Ecológica de Guapiaçu  (REGUA)
 A Guide to the Butterflies of the Serra dos Orgaos, South-eastern Brazil. Jorge Bizarro and Alan Martin ISBN: 978-0-9568291-2-2  £35.00 including UK delivery
Field Guide to the Birds of the Serra dos Órgãos and Surrounding Area. Daniel Mello, Gabriel Mello and Francisco Mallet-Rodrigues. ISBN: 978-85-919157-0-5.   £21.00 including UK delivery
A Guide to the Dragonflies and Damselflies of the Serra dos Orgaos, South-eastern Brazil Tom Kompier  ISBN: 978-0-9568291-1-5  £30.50 including UK delivery
 A Guide to the Hawkmoths of the Serra dos Orgaos, South-eastern Brazil.  Alan Martin, Alexandre Soares and Jorge Bizarro  ISBN-13: 9780956829108  £15.00 including UK delivery.
 All available from Alan Martin, Alureds Oast, Northiam, East Sussex, TN31 6JJ.