Undergraduate biologists, professional ichthyologists, anglers or anyone else interested in fish will find The Diversity of Fishes readable and captivating. The encyclopaedic treatment, good illustrations and an easy style make this academic textbook intelligible to almost anyone concerned with fish.
The layout of books dealing with fish biology has not changed much since J. R. Norman's classic A History of Fishes, first published in 1931. The coverage of the content has. The authors introduce us to systematics, form and function, growth and development followed by taxonomy and evolutionary relationships. Then they lead us through zoogeographical aspects, behaviour, ecology and, finally, a short section on conservation and the future, predictably in order but the depth of treatment is excellent.
Fish are the most diverse group of vertebrate animals with an estimated 24,600 living species and an impressive fossil record. They occupy virtually all aquatic habitats and niches from the abyss to freshwater, from desert pools to caves, and some can fly - just. Some are large, up to 12 metres, others are small, 8mm - representing the limits of the evolutionary exploration of the basic fish design. The authors explore all aspects with many specialised examples in the excellent box format. The pictures, a traditionally important aspect of fish texts, are a mixture of the old ink representations found in most books and newly created figures with clean lines and clear messages. Photographic plates, where they are used, are not of the best quality and the coloured plates of the cover suggested colour inside, which is disappointingly absent.
Major recent advances in fish biology have been made in behavioural and ecological research. The treatment is right up to date as is shown in the splendid bibliography, which brings us up to 1995. I particularly like the understandable explanations of social aspects of fish behaviour and shoaling. Although the choice of examples stems from North America, European work is cited regularly, for example that of Tony Pitcher and Anne Magurran. The book does not try to describe fisheries practice, fish pathology or fisheries economics with any but a passing reference, but the final chapter examining conservation introduces us to man's effect on fish populations and diversity through fishing activity, pollution, catchment manipulation and the effects of global warming.
Although the book is not cheap, I intend to buy a copy for one of the family. My only problem is whether to give it to a daughter studying oceanography or a son who is a fanatic angler.
Tony Andrew is lecturer in environmental studies, University of Ulster.
The Diversity of Fishes
Author - Gene S Helfman, Bruce C Collette and Douglas E Facey
ISBN - 0 86542 256 7
Publisher - Blackwell Scientific Publications
Price - £55.00
Pages - 528