Seldom has there been the continuity of research over several decades in one ecosystem as detailed in this book by David Lindenmayer and his co-research personnel in their study of the montane ash forests of the Central Highlands of Victoria.
Forest Pattern and Ecological Process is a synthesis of more than 25 years of ecological research in the ash forests. Most significantly, it provides the reader with an understanding of the role and function of the many components that make up the ash forest ecosystem and the many issues involved in carrying out research in forests such that the many ecological links between the biota and the landscape can be recognised.
The book does not present any new research but it does provide, through easily read text, a clear and concise synthesis and understanding of the research carried out by Lindenmayer and his team. As he states in the preface, ‘the book has been written for a broad audience, including other researchers, resource managers, policy-makers, naturalists and readers with a general interest in forests’.
The structure of the book readily meets Lindenmayer’s expectations for a wide readership. It has seven parts in 18 chapters, five parts being on the core components of forest cover and composition, structure of the ash forests, native animal occurrence and distribution, disturbance regimes, and forest management and biodiversity conservation. Each individual part finishes with a summary of the topics covered in that part, a short statement of the lessons learned, the remaining knowledge gaps and the links of each topic to other parts preceding it.
Having read through parts 1 to 6, one gains a clear understanding of the forest environment within which Lindenmayer and his team carried out the many research projects that are well synthesised in the book. The Central Highlands montane forests are seen in quite a different perspective and one certainly gains a ‘feel’ for the dynamic nature of these special forest ecosystems.
The chapters on disturbance regimes (Part 5) examine three broad examples of disturbance: a natural disturbance (fire) and two imposed disturbance regimes (clearfell logging, and post-fire or salvage logging). The impacts of disturbance and the role disturbance plays in the vegetation dynamics and the distribution of flora and fauna species, are clearly articulated in these chapters.
The structure of the chapters and the text within each provides for continuity of the themes and topics outlined, and engenders in the reader a need and desire to continually reconsider the previous topics in terms of each subsequent chapter. All readers will be inspired by this book to delve further into the detail of the non-tree components of the montane ash forests. The book could well be titled ‘Seeing the forest beyond the trees’.
The book should be read by all ecology students even if they are not studying montane forest ecology, as throughout the chapters, Lindenmayer explains the many issues in establishing and undertaking ecological research in montane forest systems, as well as providing suggestions and guidelines to address these in other forest and non‑forest environments.
A short but significant chapter is Chapter 17, which addresses the perennial issue of monitoring. As Lindenmayer notes, there is a prolonged history of poorly planned and unfocused monitoring programs that are either ineffective or fail completely, and very few examples of long-term monitoring programs that contribute to effective and meaningful natural resource management.
The monitoring program in the Central Highlands montane ash forests is a stand-out example of what is required of monitoring especially over a long time-frame. This has provided Lindenmayer with the experience and expertise to detail the issues to be addressed in setting up an effective long-term ecological monitoring program, particularly one that contributes to future ecosystem and biodiversity conservation and management. If students read no more than this chapter, they will have gained much from this book.
The 2009 fires in the Central Highlands montane forests have provided Lindenmayer and his team new directions in forest research which he acknowledges will take another 25 years to address. One can only hope that his research team will be provided with the resources to continue over that period and that they will synthesise the work in the same ways as have been covered in this book.
Written by a very hands-on and noted ecologist, Forest Pattern and Ecological Process is arguably one of the best contributions to ecological understanding written in Australia in recent years. It should be on the shelf of every ecology and natural resource management student, as well as in the library of every higher education institution where ecology and natural resource management courses are presented.
As Lindenmayer admits, the book has not been easy to write and there are many omissions of topics that he would have liked to, or should have, included within it. Irrespective, he has done a superb job of synthesising 25 years of research into very easily read and understood text, from which students of ecology, biodiversity management, natural resource management and the like, will benefit. Unfortunately the cost of the book will be beyond the financial resources of many University students, making access to it through libraries even more essential.
Roger Good, Alpine Ecologist, Bungendore, NSW.