Conserving Bird Biodiversity: General Principles and their Application.—Ken Norris and Deborah J. Pain [editors]. 2002. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK. xiii + 337 pp., 26 figures, 7 tables, 2 appendices. ISBN 0-521-78949-4. $38.00 (paper). ISBN 0-521-78340-2. $100.00 (cloth).
Conserving Bird Biodiversity provides succinct and well-written summaries of most of the major topics of interest in avian conservation. Authors of the 12 chapters provide numerous specific examples from the world literature to nicely illustrate most of the points made.
In the first chapter Michael W. Bruford provides a very brief and selective overview of the levels and patterns of biodiversity, including subspecies concepts and evolution. Unfortunately, this chapter is among the weaker, failing to devote enough space to this huge topic to be very useful.
Collin Bibby discusses the social values of birds; for example, the economic value of ecosystem services and birdwatching. These practical arguments will be of great value to those who must justify bird conservation actions to those outside the conservation arena.
Les Underhill and David Gibbons touch on many of the familiar methods for mapping and monitoring bird populations, although I was surprised to see no reference to the Christmas Bird Count (Bock and Root 1981, Studies in Avian Biology 6:17–23) or Breeding Biology Research and Monitoring Database (Martin et al. 1997, BBIRD Field Protocols, University of Montana, Missoula, Montana). The section on indicators could have been much more thorough, given the importance and controversy of this concept in conservation biology.
A chapter by Georgina M. Mace and Nigel J. Collar and another by Andrew Balmford nicely cover many approaches to species and spatial prioritization, both of which are central to efficient strategic conservation action. The experience and leadership of European ornithologists in this arena deserves study and attention.
Ben D. Bell and Don V. Merton provide a number of examples and more detail than many chapters regarding critically endangered bird populations and their management. Rhys E. Green also provides some detailed thought processes and examples for diagnosing causes of population declines and selecting remedial actions.
Larger scale issues such as climate change and disease are addressed by Deborah J. Pain and Paul F. Donald in their review of pandemic threats to bird biodiversity. Unfortunately, only the briefest overviews of these huge topics are provided.
Population viability analysis and behavior-based models for predicting the impact of environmental change are briefly addressed by Ken Norris and Richard Stillman. The usefulness and limitations of these approaches are illustrated with a few examples.
Paul Opdam and John A. Wiens provide an excellent overview of fragmentation, habitat loss, and landscape management, including particularly lucid descriptions of various concepts. Their predictive tools for planning purposes is a most useful summary, and I would like to have seen analogous sections from the other authors.
I found the chapter on the interface between research, education, and training by Leon Bennun to be of least value to me, although the author pointed out that this chapter largely is a case study of personal experiences in Kenya rather than a global overview. Readers in developing countries may find much more of value here than I did.
The final chapter by Gerard C. Boere and Clayton D. A. Rubec on conservation policies and programs affecting birds provides an excellent summary of international conventions and treaties, with many examples from throughout the world. If we are to conserve bird biodiversity globally, many more conservation biologists need to understand and become involved in this arena.
I see two minor shortcomings. Several of the chapters begin with similar introductory paragraphs on avian biodiversity and conservation concern. The editors should have consolidated this material into a single location in the preface or introductory chapter. Also, the level of detail varies among chapters, with some authors providing numerous examples from the literature, tables or figures, while other authors only skim the surface. Certainly more complete treatments of every topic in this book can be found in other books or major papers.
But these imperfections do not detract from the great value of this book in providing a single source reference for the stated topic. With over 900 references, 17% of which are from 2000 or later, Conserving Bird Biodiversity is a valuable comprehensive reference for everyone interested in bird conservation. But further, because birds are arguably the best-understood group of terrestrial vertebrates, the numerous processes that have been developed for their conservation should be of considerable value to those working for the conservation of other terrestrial vertebrate taxa. For those of us in the New World, the great number of examples and references from the Old World will provide an immediate enrichment to our background and understanding.