Open Access
How to translate text using browser tools
1 December 2004 Metapopulation Biology Goes Evolutionary
Author Affiliations +

Ecology, Genetics, and Evolution of Metapopulations. Ilkka Hanski and Oscar E. Gaggiotti, eds. Elsevier Academic Press, London, 2004. 696 pp. $54.95 (ISBN 0123234484 cloth).

The notion that discrete populations interact through the exchange of individuals (and hence genes as well) is certainly not new, and is easily traced back through the writings of such authors as Levins, Mayr, Dobzhanksy, Wright, Harper, Elton, and many others. However, the study of interconnected populations has attained more prominence in recent years through the emergence of metapopulation biology as a distinct research area. In 1991, Michael Gilpin and Ilkka Hanski jumpstarted this new specialty area with the publication of the edited volume Metapopulation Dynamics. Six years later, prompted by the rapid proliferation of research in this area, the two editors edited a sequel, Metapopulation Biology (Hanski and Gilpin 1997). Thus, Ecology, Genetics, and Evolution of Metapopulations (EGEM) represents the third publication in this series of edited volumes focusing on the biology and dynamics of metapopulations. It is important to note that EGEM is not a revision of either of the earlier two books; rather, it is an entirely new book, containing all new chapters.

As suggested by its title, the 2004 publication differs from its predecessors in that it it covers more than ecological dynamics, the primary focus of the first two books. EGEM adds an explicit emphasis on genetic and evolutionary patterns and processes of metapopulations. In the preface, Hanski and Gaggiotti describe their intention: to provide readers with a diverse collection of up-to-date reviews on a wide variety of metapopulation topics. In this, they have succeeded. The book is divided into five parts: an introductory section on metapopulation dynamics, one section each on metapopulation ecology, genetics, and evolutionary dynamics, and a final section on integration and applications. Three contributions compose each of the first four sections, and eleven sections (approximately half the book) make up the final section.

The editors have succeeded also in compiling a diverse set of reviews, and this represents a major strength of the publication. A total of 37 authors from 11 countries contributed. European contributors outnumbered North American contributors by nearly two to one, reflecting the strong interest and significant contributions from European scientists in this area during the past 15 years. Some chapters are largely theoretical in nature while others are primarily empirical. Some are organized around case studies, and others describe modeling efforts. Some focus directly on practical applications of metapopulation theory and knowledge (e.g., in conservation efforts). As for focal organisms, different chapters address in depth plants, insects, mammals, and pathogens.

The editors emphasize that they did not try to impose a particular approach on the authors, a decision that contributed both to the diversity of contributions and to the book's inability to become much more than a collection of contributions, as excellent as many of them are individually. The two editors did write an outstanding introductory chapter, which gives the reader an informative historical perspective on the development of metapopulation biology and an overview of more recent developments in the areas of genetics and evolution. I wish they had made a similar effort at the end of the book and written a concluding chapter identifying and emphasizing some of the common themes, problems, and prospects elucidated in the preceding material. In this reviewer's opinion, the benefits of such a chapter in helping to create an organizing conceptual framework would have far outweighed the costs of writing it.

I suspect the editors might respond that their decision to let the individual contributions stand on their own was intentional. It is true that a synthesis is not needed to meet the first of the editors' stated goals for the book, which is to serve as a reference to researchers. The number and range of contributions give researchers abundant food for thought. One thing I particularly liked was that all the references are consolidated in a single bibliography at the end of the book. I have always found it frustrating to look up a reference I know was cited somewhere in an edited volume when all the references are appended to individual chapters. The lack of an organizing theme or common approach, however, seriously hampers the book's ability to meet the editors' second goal, which is to provide a textbook for advanced students in ecology, genetics, evolutionary biology, and conservation biology. By “textbook,” I mean a book that presents a subject in a coherent, consistent way and has an explicit scheme of organization. By this standard, EGEM falls short.

It would be difficult to imagine any population ecologist or population geneticist who couldn't find some of the chapters informative and stimulating. But the breadth of the material is even larger than the book's title suggests. The relationship of metapopulation biology to landscape ecology is discussed by Kimberly With, as well as by Hanski and Gaggiotti. The extension of the concept of metapopulations to the notion of metacommunities is developed in a thought-provoking chapter by Matthew Leibold and Thomas Miller. Life history evolution in metapopulations is discussed by Ophélie Ronce and Isabelle Olivieri. The metapopulation dynamics of infectious diseases are discussed in a chapter by Matt Keeling and Ottar Bjørnstad. Prospects of climate change impacts on metapopulation dynamics are presented by Chris Thomas and Hanski. And the relevance of metapopulation theory to refuge design is covered by Mar Cabeza, Atte Moilanen, and Hugh Possingham. This is just a sampling of the book's richness.

The text is easy to read and logically formatted with frequent headings and subheadings. Most, but not all, chapters end with a section called “Conclusion” or “Concluding Remarks,” which the reader can skim to determine whether a particular chapter might be worth reading. The figures are clearly presented. The chapters differ in their accessibility, although, as suggested by the editors (who state that probably not many “would find all the chapters easy bed-time reading”), the challenge of some chapters may be more attributable to a reader's unfamiliarity with the topic than to poor writing or editing. The book has a soft, cloth cover and the price is reasonable, given the exorbitant cost of so many edited volumes these days.

In sum, Hanski and Gaggiotti, along with the other 35 contributors, have produced an excellent compilation on metapopulation biology. I suspect that the book's emphasis on genetics and evolution will serve as an important catalyst, stimulating more metapopulation research in these areas, just as the 1991 Hanski and Gilpin volume did for metapopulation ecology. At the same time, I could not help feeling a bit disappointed as I turned the final page of text. I found myself mumbling the title words of Peggy Lee's hit, “Is That All There Is?” Perhaps it was unrealistic to expect that the third volume in this series, published 13 years after the first volume, might be more synthetic than its predecessors. Perhaps my conception of a textbook differs from that of the editors. In any case, it is clearly time for someone to write a real metapopulation textbook, an overview of the field written by one or just a few authors. The related field of landscape ecology has benefited from several such books in the past (Forman and Godron 1986, Forman 1995) and currently is benefiting from one just published (Turner et al. 2004). I encourage Hanski and Gaggiotti, as well as other metapopulation biologists, to consider such an undertaking before publishing the next in the current series of edited volumes.

References cited


R. T. Forman 1995. Land Mosaics: The Ecology of Landscapes and Regions. Cambridge (United Kingdom): Cambridge University Press. Google Scholar


R. T. Forman and M. Godron . 1986. Landscape Ecology. New York: Wiley. Google Scholar


M. E. Gilpin and I. A. Hanski . eds. 1991. Metapopulation Dynamics: Empirical and Theoretical Investigations. New York: Academic Press. Google Scholar


I. A. Hanski and M. E. Gilpin . eds. 1997. Metapopulation Biology: Ecology, Genetics, and Evolution. San Diego: Academic Press. Google Scholar


M. G. Turner, R. H. Gardner, and R. V. O'Neill . 2004. Landscape Ecology in Theory and Practice: Pattern and Process. New York: Springer-Verlag. Google Scholar


MARK A. DAVIS "Metapopulation Biology Goes Evolutionary," BioScience 54(12), 1153-1155, (1 December 2004).[1153:MBGE]2.0.CO;2
Published: 1 December 2004
Back to Top