Grasses and Grassland Ecology. David J. Gibson. 2009. Oxford University Press, Great Clarendon Street, Oxford, England, OX2 6DP. 305 p., incl. references and index. $70.00 softbound, ISBN 978-0-19-852919-4, $150.00 hardbound, ISBN 978-0-19-852918-7.
Grasses and Grassland Ecology by David J. Gibson and Oxford University Press is a scholarly and comprehensive literature review, a physiology, ecology, and botany text, and a thorough treatment of grass plants and the ecology of grasslands. Right up front one notices the no-nonsense approach and the praiseworthy writing. This book covers information for scientists who want to study grassland ecology or improve grasslands or pastures. Horticulturists studying grass, forage, or prairie plants and interested in soils, nutrition, and grassland management will find this book an important addition to their personal library.
Only a few color photographs are in the center of the book. They are outstanding in quality and are well-chosen to illustrate different types of grassland biomes. The rest of the book is packed with graphs, tables, diagrams, and line drawings so that one hardly notices the lack of color. This text is scholarly with many crisp, clean, black-and-white illustrations, charts, and diagrams that are well-executed, well-labeled, and well-referenced. I found some of the abbreviations on the figures slightly confusing until I dug deeper into the text.
The reference section, and plant, animal, and subject indices cover 42 full pages and constitute a mini-library on the topic. The overall impression of the book is one of excellence. Every square inch of this book is filled with information that is well-presented, and it is obvious that the author worked the information to perfection. I could find only one typographical error, and it was so minor I might have missed it if I had not looked at the text so many times.
Some of the most interesting topics covered include a discussion of C3 and C4 plants, a history of grassland management, plant nutrition and soils, the evolution, morphology, anatomy, and physiology of grassland plants, and restoration and management of grasslands. In this book, grasslands are given clear economic value. Goods and services are quantified, and tourist value also is considered.
The book begins with a solid Introduction justifying the usefulness of this definitive literature review, then goes on to chapters on Systematics and Evolution, Ecological Morphology and Anatomy, Physiology, Population Ecology, Community Ecology, Ecosystem Ecology, World Grasslands, Disturbance, and Management and Restoration. I thoroughly enjoyed the last three chapters and found myself reading and learning well beyond what would be required to review this book. It never sat on the table long.
In the Introduction, Grassland is defined in a dozen important references in an easy-to-read table, and a table of grassland terminology from Forage to Veld accompanies the definition table. The chapters on morphology and anatomy and physiology could be a stand-alone textbook just as they are. I appreciated the discussions on families, sub-families, and C3 and C4 plants, and the comprehensive approach to the botanical subjects. The book is like an auto-tutorial graduate seminar. It is such a good review of the research on grasslands and grassland ecology. The world distribution maps and biomass estimates are fascinating. A section on forage quality addresses the important issues for the rancher.
The production of the book is also noteworthy. The paperback is a slightly heavy stock, and the binding quality is good. The book is strong and well-constructed and has stood up to some heavy wear during the review. The book is an easy size to handle, and the pages open smoothly. The printing is as crisp and clean as the illustrations.
From the wealth of information provided, to the usefulness as a text and a reference, to the top-notch execution, I give Grasses and Grassland Ecology by David J. Gibson and Oxford University Press a five-star rating. I recommend it for upper-class college students or graduate students. It would make a fine basis for a graduate-level seminar course. I enjoyed the informative style and the spot-on diction and did not miss the plethora of color photographs.