Jeffrey S. Levinton's broad background in marine ecology and evolution permeates the new edition of his textbook on marine biology. It's no surprise that the text's strong points lie in diverse aspects of benthic ecology, particularly of invertebrates. I especially appreciated the interdisciplinary approach to the topic. For example, Levinton discusses the importance of laminar and turbulent flow, which can affect many aspects of an organism's ecology, including mechanics of feeding, identification and location of prey, and success of fertilization during spawning. His explanations of Reynolds number, boundary layers, and the Bernoulli principle and their effects on marine biology are clear and concise.
Levinton's audience consists of upper-level undergraduate biology students who have some background in organismal biology and diversity. The progression of topics is logical, and, true to the subtitle, he emphasizes function, biodiversity, and ecology. Levinton does an excellent job of internal referencing, so it is easy to find pertinent information discussed in different chapters. He covers marine biology in 19 chapters, grouped into eight sections. The first section summarizes oceanographic, ecological, and evolutionary principles, and the second stresses how organisms function in aquatic systems. These two sections lay out the reasons why aquatic systems in general, and marine systems in particular, are so different from those we are familiar with as land-based organisms. Levinton repeatedly returns to concepts introduced in the first two sections to explore large- and small-scale questions, many of which are unique to marine systems. For example, the oceans are all linked, so the ability of many organisms to migrate and the prevalence of free-swimming or floating larvae provide means of worldwide dispersal. Most marine organisms, however, are not cosmopolitan. The many explanations for why some organisms have narrow distributions while others do not are rooted in biological, chemical, physical, and geological principles and can be explored at large scales (e.g., interactions between coastal environments and those in the deep sea) or smaller scales (answering such questions as why deposit feeders live in one area but not in an immediately adjacent area with a different soft substrate).
The third and fourth sections address organisms and processes in the open sea, whereas sections 5 through 7 deal with benthic organisms, environments, and processes. The final section concerns human–ocean interactions. Some students may be disappointed by the relatively small role that vertebrates, particularly mammals, play in the book. Levinton has expanded on the treatment of mammals relative to the earlier edition. He is justified in concentrating on invertebrates, however, given their relative importance in ecosystems.
Marine Biology includes an adequate index, a glossary, review questions, and 32 pages of color plates. It also includes numerous high-quality gray-tone photographs and illustrations that enhance the text. The color illustrations and color versions of many of the gray-tone photographs can all be found on the accompanying CD. The color illustrations and CD will be of particular importance to the student who has little direct experience working with marine organisms and environments—these tools serve to bring the subject to life. (Unfortunately, I was unable to open the CD on three different Macintosh computers; I eventually managed to open it on a PC, but not by following the instructions. Once opened, it was easy to explore the 450+ annotated photographs grouped mainly by environments.) The book is well edited; I found only one mistake in perusing the text. (Chlorophyll a absorbs in the blue and red regions, not blue and green as stated in the text box on p. 207.)
Marine Biology is an excellent choice for a nonintroductory course. I highly recommend it for all the reasons mentioned above, in addition to three characteristics that make it particularly student friendly. First, the topic summary statements clearly stand out in blue. Perusal of these statements allows the student to quickly review the chapter contents or locate information to read about in greater depth. Second, the “hot topics,” 20 well-selected minireviews, are scattered throughout most sections. The subjects range from mechanical analysis of claws to whale evolution to the use of DNA fingerprinting in determining the source of invading species or in monitoring illegal whaling. The hot topics are excellent examples of concise reviews of the primary literature. Third, the references—listed at the end of each chapter (grouped according to subtopics), in the hot topics, and on the CD—provide the students and instructors an easy avenue for investigating the primary literature on a variety of topics. The summary statements, hot topics, and excellent literature citations will make this book a great reference for the student even after completing the course.