What is your all time favorite ecology book?

Recently, Andy Gonzalez tweeted his choice for all time favorite ecology book:

And wondered what was other people’s favorite ecology book. I (actually we – Meghan, Jeremy and I all emailed about this topic amongst ourselves) thought this would be a fun topic for Dynamic Ecology.

So what is your all time favorite ecology book? You can define favorite however you want? Influenced you the most. The most fun to read. Go back to over and over again. This is a personal preference and times change, so this doesn’t necessarily equate to books that everybody should read (for a little on that see books that all ecology grad students should read), although the ecology field might be a better off if most PhD students had engaged with a good fraction of the books on this list *end over-the-hill curmudgeonly grump*.

Since more people respond to polls than open ended questions, I have formulated this as a poll. Which will be biased to books I could come up with, so please feel free to add your own choices! You can vote for up to 3. Note, no current textbooks are included (e.g. Morin’s & MIttelbachs texts on Community Ecology, Cases’s Theoretical Ecology, and Ricklef’s and BHT’s ecology text books and Gotelli’s primers are all great books and important in my thinking but not listed here) nor are popular ecology books (e.g. Silent Spring) are included for now. I’ve also only included one edition of each book.

Compiling the list for the poll was a trip down memory lane for me which I greatly enjoyed (maybe too much). I tried to be inclusive of diverse fields, but I am sure it is ultimately more revealing of my own interests and biases. So tell us what I missed!



52 thoughts on “What is your all time favorite ecology book?

  1. Ahem. That’s Struggle for *Existence*.🙂 Which I voted for, along with Tilman’s resource competition book and the Origin. The latter is going to win at a canter, but I’m curious what will get second place. I predict a widely split vote.

    Should it bother me that I haven’t read most of the books on this list? Including some of the more recent ones?

    Thanks for doing this, great post idea!

  2. This is a great post. I’m gearing up to teach an ecology course for non-majors in the fall. Got any suggestions for a book for that category? I’m willing to think “outside the box.”

  3. I dearly missed Begon, Harper, Townsend: Ecology in the list – Not only because it drew me right into ecology as a first-semester biology student, but also taught me quite a bit of “scientific” english, as english is not my mother-tongue, and thus paved the way for reading papers later…

      • As Begon et al. played this important role for me, personally, “back in the day” and Brian’s way down memory lane as he had put it. I just had to mention it😉, despite the choice of leaving such books out of the list. From the books from the list, both Hillborn & Mangel and Bolker help me a lot, working in a goverment agency on applied questions…

      • Looking over the list again, I’m now wondering if Brian might’ve changed his mind about not including textbooks? Brian, Meg, and I emailed back and forth a bit about the idea for this post and talked about whether or not to include textbooks. I seem to recall that at one point Brian was leaning towards not doing so, but perhaps he changed his mind.

        Well, in any case, that’s what the “other” option is there for. Hard to make a list like this exhaustive!

      • In the end I included “old” no longer published textbooks like Odum or Whittaker but not the currently active textbooks like BHT and Ricklefs (for what is worth BHT was my ecology textbook and I still go back to it sometimes).

        Arbitrary decision, but I figured current textbooks would get too many votes just because of recency and lack of exposure to other things.

  4. I’m seeing a dearth of female authors, especially if we are considering more contemporary works. I’m thinking Angela Douglas: The Symbiotic Habit; Mutualism: Judy Bronstein; Lynn Margulis: Origin of Eukaryotic Cells.

    • This comment got me digging a little deeper. I just looked at all of the books on my “goto” bookshelf section (my most frequently opened books – its 3 shelves long and probably 75 books) and only 4 have female authors (Magurran, Pielou, Kingsland and Joan Roughgarden). This got me worried I was biased (or in biased fields). So I started looking at my next section over which has some standard series (Princeton Monographs, Oxford & Cambridge series on populations, and the older Chapman and Hall series). The representation of X chromosomes is if anything worse there.

      Given the extraordinary range and number of productive women in the field not just now but in recent decades (it may unfortunately not be 50/50 yet but its way way more than 4/75=~5%), it seems to me there must be a filter or bias on women writing books. Whether that filter is on taking on the task of writing a book by personal choices or on publishers selecting who writes books I couldn’t say. But it seems an interesting and important question. I am not aware of any literature on it.

      • This was my first thought as well in response to Michelle’s valid point: that the strong gender bias in Brian’s list reflects the strong gender bias in authorship of academic ecology books. Not just many decades ago (which wouldn’t be surprising), but even fairly recently.

        And looking at my own shelf, it looks to me like the gender bias might not change *that* much even if you broadened the list to include edited volumes and recent textbooks.

  5. It could be interesting to ask the persons who participate to indicate which country they attended (or are attending) graduate school in …

    • It would be interesting. Unfortunately there is a technical issue. If I want to do cross-tabs then I have to use Google Poll and if I use Google Poll, I don’t know of a way to let people see the results instantly after they vote. If I use the poll feature built into WordPress people can see the results quickly (which is fun), but I haven’t figured out how to do crosstab analysis.

  6. Not too many surprises in the early voting. Lots of books getting at least one vote, and “other” getting lots of votes. The Origin running away with it. MacArthur & Wilson in joint second. Hilborn & Mangel doing well (that was a popular selection in related past posts). Hubbell doing well.

    Biggest surprise to me is to see Stearns currently in joint second place. And it’s not as if we’re just getting a bunch of votes from evolutionary ecologists, I don’t think, since there are other evolutionary ecology books getting few or no votes.

  7. I added “Loreau – From Populations to Ecosystems: Theoretical Foundations for a New Ecological Synthesis”

    Also, “Vellend – title not yet announced due out late summer 2016”

      • I actually didn’t write in Vellend 2016 since space was limited. So if you see it in the results, it wasn’t me!

    • I’ll second Loreau 2010 (added it myself) and add a few others:
      Schluter – Ecology of Adaptive Radiation (maybe too evolution-y for the list?)
      Vandermeer & Goldberg – Population Ecology: First Principles
      Scheffer – Critical Transitions in Nature and Society
      Schmitz – Resolving Ecosystem Complexity
      DeAngelis – Dynamics of Nutrient Cycling & Food Webs
      Ellner & Guckenheimer – Dynamic Models in Biology

  8. Brian, I love this post. I ended up picking the two that I just enjoyed reading the most…the ones that I was as anxious to get back to as a James Lee Burke novel. Macroecology, A Critique for Ecology and Science and Limnology are not only the top 3 – they’re the only three. Ben Bolker’s book I go back to over and over but it’s technical – it helps me do stuff I want to do. The Theory of Island Biogeography is great but it’s not an easy read. But, as others have said, it’s helping me put together a reading list for my sabbatical. Best, Jeff H

  9. Thanks for following up with this great post, Brian. Happy to see we have very high overlap in our libraries! Incredibly difficult to choose three because I feel connected to so many of these books for different reasons and at different periods in my learning and thinking. Recently, I’ve been learning a lot from Lande et al. (2003) Stochastic Population Dynamics in Ecology and Conservation. It’s a tour de force. Looking forward to seeing the final results from the survey.

    • Lande et al. 2003 is indeed great, another oversight. Oversights were inevitable, sadly.

      I note with interest that your own pick of Geographical Ecology isn’t really standing out from the pack so far. One of many with just a smattering of votes. Don’t know that I’d have expected it to stand out, though–it didn’t kick off a focused research program and so doesn’t have nearly the following of The Theory of Island Biogeography.

      • I had forgotten about Lande! That is a great one. Another of my favourites, in the same vein: Modelling Fluctuating Populations, by Nisbet and Gurney. Every time re-open it, I learn something new.

  10. I was surprised that neither of Peter Turchin’s books (Complex Population Dynamics, or Quantitative Analysis of Movement) were on there. They were both incredibly formative for me; Complex Population Dynamics was what really got me fascinated by ecology as a theoretical science; before that I was aiming toward evolution.

    • It’s just hard to remember all the candidates! Now that you’ve mentioned it, I’m embarrassed not to have thought of Complex Population Dynamics when Brian, Meg, and I were tossing around ideas for what should be on a draft list. It’s a great book, which I might well have voted for had I recalled it!

    • CPD is definitely a good one. I had a tough time figuring out what to do with the Princeton Monograph series books. I could have put the whole list on there, but I had to pick and choose.

      By the sounds of it I should have included:
      Turchin’s Complex Population Dynamics
      Loreau’s Populations to Ecosystems
      Scheffer’s Critical Transitions are the ones I should have included.

      And it sounds like the Lande et al Stochastic Populations book (I’ve enjoyed it too) from the Oxford series as well.

  11. I voted for Turner’s landscape text, and Tilman’s resource use… but really, my first choice has to be either Manly’s Resource Selection by Animals, or even more likely, Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac.

  12. FWIW here are the “others” listed so far:
    Loreau – From Populations to Ecosystems 2
    Edmondson – The Uses of Ecology 1
    Harper Population Biology of Plants 1
    Begon, Harper, Townsend: Ecology 1
    Lacher – Physiological Plant Ecology 1
    Williams, Nichols & Conroy – Analysis and management of animal populations 1
    Case – An Illustrated Guide to Theoretical Ecology 1
    Turchin – complex population dynamics and Nisbey and Gurney – modelling fluctuai 1
    Royle & Dorazio — Hierarchical modeling and inference in ecology 1
    Loreau – From Populations to Ecosystems: Theoretical Foundations for a New Ecolo 1
    Otto & Day A Biologist’s Guide to Mathematical Modeling in Ecology and Evolution 1
    Schluter – The Ecology of Adaptive Radiation 1
    Karban – Hpw to Do Ecology 1
    Science and Limnology by Rigler and Peters 1
    Angilletta – Thermal Adaptation: A Theoretical and Empirical Synthesis 1
    Wetzel – Limnology 1
    Harper – Population Biology of Plants; Roff – The Evolution of Life Histories 1
    Robin Wall Kimmerer – Gathering Moss 1
    Aldo Leopold – A Sand County Almanac 1

    Some of these (e.g. A Sand County Almanac, Case, BHT, Otto & Day were omitted intentionally by the arbitrary rules I used).

    But others are interesting additions. Loreau’s Populations to Ecosytems was brought up 3 times and a clear miss. Turchin has been mentioned as well. Harper’s Population Biology of Plants was listed twice – I almost included that one but decided it predated most of our readers. Glad to hear I was wrong.

    • Interested to hear Loreau’s book getting several votes. I’d be curious if they’re from students or faculty. I think Loreau’s book mostly pulls together stuff that’s in his papers. Unless I’m misremembering (which I might be), his book doesn’t report many new results. Many books on this list (and many not on the list, including many other Princeton Monographs) are the same way. I think such books have the most value for students, who might find it harder to get a sense of how someone’s work all fits together from reading a bunch of separate papers.

      Contrast something like Hubbell’s book, which is mostly new results (or new applications of existing population genetics results to ecology). Also contrast books that synthesize a larger literature, rather than the author’s own work.

      Not saying one sort is intrinsically better than another. But they’re valuable for different reasons, and to different audiences.

      • FWIW, I listed Loreau’s book, and am a postdoc. And, I agree — I like it because it brings together basically everything he’d written up to that point.

  13. Nice poll! I would also add:
    – Keller DR, Golley FB. 2000. The philosophy of ecology: from science to synthesis.
    – Dodds W. 2009. Laws, theories, and patterns in Ecology.

  14. Pingback: Fun ways of deciding authorship order | Dynamic Ecology

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