Biology of Marine Birds.—E. A. Schreiber and Joanna Burger (editors). CRC Press LLC, Boca Raton, Florida. xvi + 722 pp., numerous text figures and photographs, ISBN 0-8493-9882-7. $84.95 (cloth).
Biology of Marine Birds, a multi-authored volume edited by E. A. Schreiber and J. Burger, is a monumental achievement. The book contains 19 chapters ranging in topic from the evolutionary history of seabirds based on the fossil record (Warheit) to current seabird-conservation needs and management practices (Boersma et al.). Chapters on avian taxa normally not included in texts on marine birds (shorebirds, by Warnock et al., and wading birds, by Frederick) round out an impressive array of chapters written by world-renowned seabird ecologists and physiologists.
New material is presented throughout the volume, but the chapters by Weimerskirch, Hamer et al., Bried and Jouventin, and Ellis and Gabrielsen stand apart from the others. These authors conducted original meta-analyses, investigating interspecific variability in the demographic, life-history, behavioral, and physiological traits of marine birds. These chapters appear in the middle of the volume, tempting one to speculate that the editors also saw these chapters as the cornerstones of the book. One of the clear, though not particularly novel, results of each of these meta-analyses is the importance of body size in determining physiology, life-history trade-offs, and population dynamics of seabirds. Notably, the meta-analyses conducted by Weimerskirch (seabird demography and its relationship with the marine environment) and Hamer et al. (breeding biology, life histories, and life-history–environment interactions) are supported and based upon an unusual and remarkably thorough dataset presented in Appendix 2, in which the editors and contributors compiled life history and demographic variables for 335 different species of seabirds. The meta-analyses conducted by Bried and Jouventin (site and mate choice in seabirds: an evolutionary perspective) and Ellis and Gabrielsen (energetics of free-ranging seabirds) are supported by extensive tabular material (Table 9.1 and Tables 11.2 and 11.5, respectively). I am unaware of other thorough compilations on these topics; therefore, Appendix 2 and these tables should be of exceptional value to students and professional marine ornithologists for decades to come. Unfortunately, the references as presented in Appendix 2 are pooled by species, rather than by the parameter of interest, which will make it difficult for those using the data to find the original sources of information.
As with any multi-authored volume, the book does suffer from some inconsistencies in the quality and quantity of information presented, including photographs and figures. While I enjoyed the line drawings sprinkled throughout the book immensely, many of the photographs are poorly reproduced. Some of the chapters contain superbly detailed reviews (e.g., Montevecchi; interactions between fisheries and seabirds) while others seem more focused on the contributor's previously published material. Other balanced and thorough reviews include Burger and Gochfeld's contribution on the effects of chemicals and pollution on seabirds. However, a major omission from this chapter concerns the use of stable-isotope analysis to assess biomagnification of contaminants in marine ecosystems. Numerous researchers have used this technique to understand the mechanisms of contaminant uptake, and it has important applications for pinpointing and minimizing pollutant loads in seabirds. Schreiber's review on the effects of weather and climate on marine birds is balanced, but some important recent insights on coupled climate-ecosystem fluctuations are missing. Although much is written in this chapter on El Niño, little attention is paid (one paragraph) to the opposite climate extreme, La Niña, and its positive effect on seabird populations on a global scale. Moreover, lower-frequency (i.e., interdecadal) climate variability and ecosystem fluctuations are not addressed in this chapter, yet this time scale of analysis is required for understanding the effects of global warming on marine systems and seabirds. Given the extensive literature on this topic (much of it published in the oceanographic rather than ornithological literature), I consider this a substantial omission. Descriptions of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation and North Atlantic Oscillation, to name two very well known interdecadal climate patterns, would have been appropriate inclusions in a chapter on climate and seabirds published in 2002.
The main shortcoming of this compendium of otherwise excellent material is that the “marine” part of “marine birds” is mostly omitted. In the volume, we see extensive, thorough reviews of much of what has been learned about seabirds while on land and ice. This “colony-centric” perspective has plagued seabird biology for decades, but is natural considering the difficulties and expense in studying these organisms where they spend the majority of their lives—at sea. Only Shealer's chapter, on the foraging behavior and food of seabirds, attempts to deal with this complex and poorly understood aspect of seabird biology. I give Shealer credit for a well-written and relatively comprehensive review on this topic, but if the editors had truly wanted a treatise on the biology of marine birds, they could have devoted 3–4 chapters to this topic, similar to their emphasis on life histories and demography (6 chapters), development and energetics (4 chapters), and conservation issues (3 chapters). In their preface and introductory chapter, Schreiber and Burger note that technology has contributed substantially to our understanding of seabird ecology at sea. But, in actuality, little is devoted to describing the substantial and novel work of seabird researchers using technology such as satellite telemetry (e.g., the work of Watanuki, Croxall, and Weimerskirch). Nor is there adequate attention paid to the considerable body of work on the foraging ecology of seabirds at sea. A scant two pages of text is devoted to relationships between seabirds and the physical ocean environment (contained within Shealer's chapter); this seriously underrepresents what is known, and unknown, about “seabird oceanography.” Major contributors to this field (Ainley, Ballance, Briggs, Haney, Hunt, Schneider, Spear, and Tasker, to name a few) would be justifiably disappointed with this presentation.
Notwithstanding these concerns, Biology of Marine Birds is an essential volume for the personal libraries of professional marine ecologists, ornithologists, and conservationists, and would be an excellent choice for a graduate- or undergraduate-level seminar or course on marine vertebrates. At $85, the book will be expensive for students and young professionals, but considering its nearly 750 pages of content, the price is not unreasonable at all.