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1 July 2000 Wetland Birds: Habitat Resources and Conservation Implications
Scott Forbes
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Wetland Birds: Habitat Resources and Conservation Implications.—Milton W. Weller. 1999. Cambridge University Press, New York. xv + 277 pp. ISBN 0-521-63326-5. Cloth, $74.95. ISBN 0-521-63362-1. Paper, $32.95.—They are hidden amid the Great Plains, and each spring they awaken from their winter slumber. Life of all forms flourishes within their still waters: stalks of Typha and Scirpus rise en masse to transform a sea of brown into a carpet of green; larval damselflies and dragonflies crawl to the water's edge and cast off their shells to become creatures of the air. Predatory mink and giant waterbugs prowl above and below the water's surface. And each spring they are home to the great flocks of migratory birds, many of which will settle in to raise their families. They are, of course, the prairie wetlands, and they rank among the most productive habitats on the face of the earth.

As Milton Weller outlines in Wetland Birds, the lifeblood of wetlands is water: it dictates seasonal plant growth and animal succession. Winter snows and spring rains fill ponds and recharge aquifers; small increases in summer temperatures accelerate evaporation, and temporary wetlands disappear while permanent ones shrink. Water control in the Florida everglades, for example, has transformed the annual cycle of seasonal flooding into semipermanent water with community-wide effects, highlighting an important problem: wetlands face the inexorable pressures of human intrusion. North America has lost half of its original wetlands to drainage, and much of the remainder is threatened; the figure is even higher in other regions of the world.

Another author writing about wetland birds might have chosen a more simplistic, taxonomic approach, but Weller, drawing upon a lifetime of experience, does not shrink from the challenge of doing justice to a complex topic. And he succeeds. The real subject of Wetland Birds is the intricate web of ecological factors that affect wetland dynamics; bird populations arise as an emergent property of these factors. Weller has done an admirable job of distilling mountains of material into easily digested chapters, 17 in all. Each is a short review of topics, including wetland types, habitat dynamics, foraging strategies, physiological adaptations, population biology, and management concerns. A reference list at the end of each chapter will allow readers access to a much larger underlying literature.

The book is balanced geographically: North American work receives greater attention than other regions, but Weller draws examples from across the globe. And, as someone who has succeeded in working on wetland birds for two decades without studying ducks, the taxonomic balance in this book is welcome. Waterfowl biologists need not worry; they will have plenty to read, but unlike the philosophy of certain management agencies and conservation groups, there is more to life than anseriforms. The layout of the book is handsome, with crisp line drawings and black-and-white photographs, and in this era of upward-spiraling book costs, I would be remiss if I did not draw attention to its modest price. My criticisms of this volume are few. At the risk of being too trendy, I would have liked to see a bit more on the potential effects of global warming on wetlands. This minor item notwithstanding, I can unhesitatingly state that every wetland biologist should have a copy of Wetland Birds on his or her shelf. Were I to teach a course on wetland ecology, this book would be on the required reading list.


Scott Forbes "Wetland Birds: Habitat Resources and Conservation Implications," The Auk 117(3), 844-845, (1 July 2000).[0844:WBHRAC]2.0.CO;2
Published: 1 July 2000
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