Perennial guides

Plant Physiological Ecology . First Edition - Lincoln Taiz and Eduardo Zeiger - Biology of Plants. Sixth Edition - Introduction to Plant Physiology. Second Edition
February 26, 1999

These four books, the academic contents of which overlap to a greater or lesser extent, address the needs of the generalist through to the specialist in aspects of the botanical sciences, in particular physiology. They also maintain the existing development of textbooks away from the standard format towards a presentation with more impact. Only one of the books is totally new, the others being the latest editions of existing books.

Biology of Plants by PeterRaven and colleagues has become something of a classic reference on botanical topics. The latest edition certainly maintains, and in a number of ways enhances, that reputation. In their preface, the authors correctly highlight the fact that this edition has been the subject of much revision and reorganisation to bring it up to date and to emphasise more progressive aspects of botany.

This is particularly true of the section on cell biology which has been given greater prominence by being placed early on, and sections relating to molecular biology have been upgraded substantially. However, the book as a whole maintains its universal approach by retaining the earlier format of having chapters on a wide diversity of subjects.

Aspects of classical botany are given sympathetic and conventional consideration alongside more topical and diverse areas such as the discovery of the Wollemi pine and recombinant DNA technology. The text is illustrated lavishly with clear and well-defined photographs, many in colour, supplemented by interpretative line drawings. This continues to be an excellent source book which contains much to satisfy those with a general interest in plants while maintaining an appeal for academics up to first-year undergraduates in the biological sciences.

A specialist consideration of plant physiology is given in two of the books that cover much the same subject matter using a very similar format, but with some variation in emphasis. Both books are aimed at undergraduates, being most suitable for first, second and, possibly, third-year students in the plant or biological sciences.

Plant Physiology by Lincoln Taiz and Eduardo Zeiger is again another established text that encompasses all aspects of the physiology of higher plants. In this second edition, emphasis has been placed, wherever appropriate, on the molecular aspects of a topic but this has been achieved without loss of sight of the underlying physiological principles. The format of the book is similar to the previous edition with clear illustrative material, mainly in the form of line diagrams and drawings. Following an overview section the text is divided into three units, each of which contains a number of individual chapters on specific topics that can be easily accessed.

Accessibility to information is facilitated by the now-standard text boxes, which have been extended and enhanced without detracting from the main text. All chapters have been subject to updating and some have undergone very extensive revamping to include contemporary material. In particular, the section on signal transduction has been given greater emphasis even though the main example quoted is for vertebrate vision; this is probably a statement on the paucity of our understanding of the topic in higher plants.

"Growth and development" is the largest unit and in its 348 pages includes very up-to-date and comprehensive considerations of plant-growth regulators. Again Taiz and Zeiger have produced a book which will be appreciated by those for whom it is intended. The reference sections at the end of each chapter are especially extensive and an excellent source of information on follow-up texts.

The comparable second edition of Introduction to Plant Physiology by William G. Hopkins is not quite as convincing. The title implies that the coverage of particular topics is lacking in depth and to some extent that appears to be the case. However, this is not consistent since the consideration of bioenergetics in chapter nine is extensive in comparison with the attention given to plant-growth regulators in chapter 17. The inclusion of a chapter on secondary metabolites is very welcome and this provides a good overview of the topic; the compounds are discussed in a clear and precise manner.

Where they have been included, diagrams and line drawings enhance the text but the colour plates are a luxury since they are largely duplicated in black and white elsewhere in the book. Stand-alone text boxes are again included and these do complement the main text, which is divided into four parts, each of which has a number of discrete chapters to aid access to information.

Overall this textbook would be more suitable for use by first-year undergraduates. However, some parts are relevant to later years.

Plant Physiological Ecology by Hans Lambers and colleagues is the most specialised book of the four. The authors have resisted the temptation to cover too much in the way of general basic background for the individual topics and have concentrated firmly on more specific aspects of physiology in an ecological context. This is particularly evident in chapter 4B, in which the authors address low-temperature tolerance but concentrate on metabolite changes rather than on an in-depth discussion of the biology of hardiness.

Broader background information may be obtained via the cited references which are extensive, relevant and, for the most part, up-to-date. One of the strengths of the book is the detailed coverage given to a number of topics that receive a more cursory consideration in other books of a similar nature. Chapter nine is particularly informative where, under "Biotic influences", biological processes given specialist attention include mycorrhizal associations, symbiotic microbes and chemical defence mechanisms, the inclusion of which makes this a valuable source book.

While this is the most traditional textbook of the quartet it is eminently readable, photographs are few, but relevant, whereas many illustrative and uncomplicated graphs, diagrams and tables are used throughout the chapters. This book is clearly for the undergraduate and postgraduate specialising in ecology and environmental sciences/physiology but is written in such a way that its contents are accessible to those in other disciplines that may wish to supplement their knowledge of specific topics.

Each of the four textbooks has its own credits and debits but they would all be welcome additions to an academic bookshelf, not least for their colourful covers, particularly in the case of Raven et al who appear to have a specific affection for van Gogh.

J. Alan Pearson is lecturer in biological sciences, University of Durham, and vice-principal, College of St Hild & St Bede, University of Durham.

Plant Physiological Ecology . First Edition

Author - Hans Lambers, F. Stuart Chapin III and Thijs L. Pons
ISBN - Alan Pearson
Publisher - Springer
Price - £37.50
Pages - 540

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