Those slimy fair weather fronds

Seaweed Ecology and Physiology
November 3, 1995

I'm NOT going to!" - my young son, an excellent swimmer, faced with the prospect of swimming in a flat calm, warm Mediterranean sea with "seaweed" floating around in it. No amount of cajoling will entice the little devil into the water and even my taxonomic arguments, that actually the green slimy stuff is in fact Zostera, a flowering plant, and not a "seaweed", fall on deaf ears. His aversion results from a fear of the beasties which inhabit the fronds and rootlike holdfasts (we have the likes of David Attenborough to thank for these particular child hang-ups!). My own aversion to seaweeds comes from the smell of rotting heaps of red, brown and green algae gathered for intense student inspection during practical work. This is one of the few areas where computer simulations have not taken over from the real thing - there's nothing quite like plunging your hands into a pile of slimy large brown algae.

In 1985, the authors (and Mary Jo Duncan) produced The Physiological Ecology of Seaweeds, which rapidly became required reading for students of this diverse group of plants. The success of this volume together with considerable developments which have taken place in this field over the past decade have led to the production of this substantially "rewritten and reorganised" book.

But this is no mere tinkering with the periphery. The authors have taken the opportunity, for example, to open up the field by including short "essays" by "senior algal ecologists". These work well (though I am not sure why they were confined to the section on seaweed communities) and provide thought-provoking pieces. They also highlight clearly how little we really know about such organisms - "Although there has been little researchI", "We still know very little about...", "Unanswered are numerous questions concerning I", et cetera.

Another difference is the expanded section on seaweed mariculture, which includes a section on the "domestication" of seaweeds. The application of biotechnology to seaweed exploitation is also aired though it is concluded that we will not see full exploitation of the seaweed group's potential until biotechnological techniques are perfected .

This is a stimulating book (though despite looking at it my young son still will not go anywhere near seaweeds), and while aimed at graduate students and final-year undergraduates, it contains much useful information for all students of the biological sciences. My big disappointment concerns the references. In a book published in late 1994, I would have expected at least some references from 1993 (or even 1994). However, in nearly 2,000 references taking up 51 pages very few are post-1990 and only a handful are from 1992. The publishing revolution seems to have struck a time-warp in this particular case.

Brian Rushton is reader in biological sciences, University of Ulster, Coleraine.

Seaweed Ecology and Physiology

Author - Christopher S. Lobban and Paul J. Harrison
ISBN - 0 521 40334 0
Publisher - Cambridge University Press
Price - £50.00
Pages - 366

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