Bring biomes to life

Plants. First edition - The Evolution of Plants. First edition
February 28, 2003

Plants has its origins in the tried-and-tested format of the Open University "course units" with which the contributing chapter authors will be familiar. Throughout each of the six chapters, the reader encounters self-assessment exercises that, combined with the individual summary and further reading sections, identify this as a textbook designed as a personal teaching aid. The text is well illustrated with clear, uncluttered diagrams, but there is limited use of photographs.

While the title suggests that the text covers a broad range of subject matter, the emphasis is very much on plant physiological topics. However, compared with other texts in the field, Plants has a superficial feel. In addition, there is some disparity in the depth of coverage in individual chapters. In considering phytochrome, for example, a brief overview of the basic properties of the compound and its actions is given.

Disappointingly, phytochrome's molecular biology is omitted. This is not what one would expect from a textbook that aims to give an "up-to-date look at plant physiology". In contrast, the chapters dealing with plant-microbe interactions and mineral nutrition are more informative; in addition there is some healthy questioning of aspects of the role of plant growth regulators in plant-growth processes. The CD-Rom that accompanies the book augments aspects of the text and covers the contemporary topics of plant genetic manipulation.

The Evolution of Plants takes a refreshing approach and helps bring to life a topic that can appear tedious to students. The evolution of plant form and the establishment of the major biomes during geological time are introduced and considered in a chronological sequence with brief contextual explanations of the period under discussion.

Each of the ten chapters is divided into smaller sections that embrace aspects of a specific topic. Included in many of these sections are considerations of the main investigative routes used to consolidate the conclusions drawn in the study of evolution, ranging from the use of traditional fossil evidence through to contemporary techniques of ancient DNA profiling. In each section, reference is made to the advantages and limitations of the investigative approaches. This allows the reader to obtain a balanced view of the evidence.

Simple but effective line drawings and tables are included in the text and these, along with extra illustrative material, including colour biome maps, are available for downloading in PowerPoint format from a dedicated website to which the reader is given access. A concise and bullet-pointed summary is given at the end of each chapter, with all references included in a consolidated, comprehensive section.

These two books are useful texts but aimed at different audiences; the overlap in their subject matter is marginal. Plants would be suitable as an introduction to selected aspects of plant physiology for first-year undergraduates on botanical/ biological courses with some parts having relevance to A-level study. The Evolution of Plants would suit not only undergraduates in plant/biological sciences but also a wider readership of geologists, geographers and environmentalists.

Alan Pearson is principal, College of St Hild and St Bede, University of Durham.

Plants. First edition

Editor - Irene Ridge
ISBN - 0 19 925548 2
Publisher - Oxford University Press
Price - £26.99
Pages - 345

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