Biomass (Biological Investigations of Marine Antarctic Systems and Stocks) is one of those wonderfully appropriate acronyms describing the international programme investigating the ecology of the southern oceans. It is an ambitious but important 14-year research programme to examine the dynamic functioning of the marine Antarctic environment and is of great importance in evaluating the resources these waters support. It has also become increasingly evident that the proper management of these waters has important significance for the exploitation of the oceans as a whole. Overexploitation of specific resources such as whale stocks and fisheries will have consequences beyond the biology of the region and the only sensible starting point for planned use must be based on extensive fundamental research. Biomass set out to address this problem.
The work in this volume falls into two categories: the first gathers together presentations dealing with sub-themes such as physical oceanography, plankton or fish stocks, presented in the traditional scientific paper or review format, and the second deals with the future of the management of the region.
The scientific presentations are generally excellent but not totally representative of all the work that has been carried out in these seas. Each section is followed by a report that evaluates the work completed in a specific area. These sections do a splendid job drawing together the contributions to make the overall picture more accessible.
Most of the papers are easy to read and, although challenging at times, I came away with a better understanding of phytoplankton dynamics and large-scale distribution of plankton. Why krill are not counted as plankton I cannot understand, except that they have received disproportionate attention as the principal food source of some cetaceans? But they are very thoroughly treated. Fish and birds sit together very happily in one section, but more information about Antarctic fish would be preferable to statistics of the numbers of papers devoted to them. The ornithology chapters are better and attempt to answer a question zooplankton researchers have been asking fish biologists for years: how much zooplankton is actually consumed by other animals? The food web and trophic relationship chapters, however, really do attempt the questions with real examples and guesstimated values - very brave in such an extensive area of sea.
The final section addresses the future developments of the Biomass initiative. Without serious funding - ship time alone could buy and sell my university department - this is unlikely to be more than individual states carrying on the work in a haphazard way and the programme may drift. But hopefully this work will highlight aspects of economic, scientific and conservation interests that affect many sectional groups worldwide.
I recommend the book as a useful guide to anyone wanting an introduction to the ecology of the southern oceans.
Tony Andrew is a lecturer in environmental sciences, University of Ulster at Coleraine.
Southern Ocean Ecology
Editor - Sayed Z. El-Sayed
ISBN - 0 521 44332 6
Publisher - Cambridge University Press
Price - £45.00
Pages - 399