Nineteen years on applied ecology has come of age

This fourth edition comes fully 9 years after its immediate predecessor and 19 years after the first edition. Much has changed -in ecology, in the world around us, and even (strange to report!) in we authors. The Preface to the first edition began: 'As the cave painting on the front cover of this book implies, ecology, if not the oldest profession, is probably the oldest science', followed by a justification that argued that the most primitive humans had to understand, as a matter of necessity, the dynamics of the environment in which they lived. Nineteen years on, we have tried to capture in our cover design both how much and how little has changed. The cave painting has given way to its modern equivalent: urban graffiti. As a species, we are still driven to broadcast our feelings graphically and publicly for others to see. But simple, factual depictions have given way to urgent statements of frustration and aggression. The human subjects are no longer mere participants but either perpetrators or victims.

Of course, it has taken more than 19 years to move from man-the-cave-painter to man-the-graffiti-artist. But 19 years ago it seemed acceptable for ecologists to hold a comfortable, objective, not to say aloof position, in which the animals and plants around us were simply material for which we sought a scientific understanding. Now, we must accept the immediacy of the environmental problems that threaten us and the responsibility of ecologists to come in from the sidelines and play their full part in addressing these problems. Applying ecological principles is not only a practical necessity, but also as scientifically challenging as deriving those principles in the first place, and we have included three new 'applied' chapters in this edition, organized around the three sections of the book: applications at the level of individual organisms and of single-species populations, of species interactions, and of whole communities and ecosystems. But we remain wedded to the belief that environmental action can only ever be as sound as the ecological principles on which it is based. Hence, while the remaining chapters are still largely about the principles themselves rather than their application, we believe that the whole of this book is aimed at improving preparedness for addressing the environmental problems of the new millennium.

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