Physiological Systems in Insects. Marc J. Klowden. Academic Press, San Diego, 2002. 415 pp., illus. $59.95 (ISBN 0124162649 paper).
Insect Physiology and Biochemistry. James L. Nation. CRC Press, Boca Raton, FL, 2002. 485 pp., illus. $109.95 (ISBN 0849311810 cloth).
The two new textbooks in insect physiology by Marc Klowden and James Nation are welcome and timely contributions to this important field. The dominant book in insect physiology during most of the 20th century was The Principles of Insect Physiology, by the late, great Sir Vincent Wigglesworth. It has been a long time since the seventh edition came out in 1972, but the charm of the prose and the breadth and depth of the scholarship made Wigglesworth's book a tough act to follow. Although well-written and authoritative multivolume series in insect physiology appeared in 1974 (edited by Rockstein, reprinted in 1984) and 1985 (edited by Kerkut and Gilbert), instructors have been in need of a single-volume textbook in this area that would have the uniformity that results from a single author and a length appropriate for a single-semester course. Chapman (1998) provides an extremely valuable reference used in university courses across the country, but his book is almost twice as long as those of Klowden and Nation; it works particularly well as a textbook for two-semester courses that cover both insect morphology and physiology.
Both Klowden's and Nation's books are intended to be used as textbooks and were written by faculty members who teach insect physiology. Marc J. Klowden is a professor at the University of Idaho who teaches insect physiology as a cooperative course between the University of Idaho and Washington State University. James L. Nation is a professor at the University of Florida who teaches insect physiology and biochemistry. Klowden notes in the preface that his textbook is intended for teaching students who use insects in their research and therefore need to understand how insects function, but who may not intend to become insect physiologists themselves. Similarly, Nation's intended audience consists of graduate students in entomology or nematology, who may have primary interests in biocontrol, toxicology, or integrated pest management rather than in physiology or biochemistry. This tough audience—students who need the material but may not be predisposed toward it—has presumably shaped both books in a positive way. Both authors do an outstanding job of making the relevance of the information clear. Both books are enjoyable to read and are jargon free while introducing readers to the necessary technical terms (highlighted in bold in both books, as in “each ovary consists of one to many ovarioles”).
Some aspects of the books' overall format are similar. Both books have extensive references at the end of each chapter that include older references but concentrate on those that are most recent (in the last 15 years). Neither has an overall list of references at the end of the book. Both have good indexes, and Klowden has a glossary. Both are well illustrated.
There are differences in style between the two textbooks that may influence the choice of which to use for a course. Nation's book is numerically subdivided (e.g., chapter 5 is “Hormones and Development,” section 5.5 is “The Prothoracic Glands and Ecdysteroids,” and subsection 5.5.1 is “Biosynthesis of Ecdysone”), which makes it easier to find information but slightly more difficult to read straight through. Nation's book is longer, has more factual information, and is somewhat more inclined to detail. For example, in discussion of the composition of the hemolymph, Nation supplies four different recipes for insect saline (pp. 320–321). On the topic of sensory receptors, Nation supplies a table that lists the nine different types of sensilla (table 10.1; sensilla trichoidea, sensilla chaetica, etc.).
Whether more details help to reinforce concepts or distract the reader from them is a subjective call that partially dictates textbook preferences; both faculty members and students differ in whether they are more inductive or deductive learners. In different classes there will be different expectations of what level of detail is appropriate or relevant, and therefore either Klowden or Nation could be an excellent choice, depending on the circumstances. Klowden's book does a remarkable job of identifying the major important physiological principles in a compact but not superficial way, and it would probably be easier for advanced undergraduate students to read it and absorb the material. Either book could work very well at the graduate level.
With regard to differences in content, both books provide excellent coverage of the major physiological functions of insects, although there are small differences in some topics. Nation has an appendix on the relationships between the major groups of arthropods, while Klowden does not cover that topic. Nation's appendix also provides a quick overview of the insect body plan, while Klowden provides that introductory material in the relevant chapters (e.g., mouthparts are covered in the chapter that deals with feeding and metabolism). Klowden covers topics in thermal biology not covered by Nation, such as thermoregulation (countercurrent heat exchange, shivering) and cold hardiness (freeze tolerance) in the circulatory system chapter. Nation spends a greater proportion of his book on the topics of nutrition, digestion, neurobiology, and sensory systems.
So which book should you choose for your course in insect physiology? Pick either to use in your classroom—you can't go wrong.