Reviews of Klaus Rohde ed.: The Balance of Nature and Human Impact. Cambridge University Press 2013.


The book was published by Cambridge University Press in 2013. For details see here:

To date the following reviews of the book have been published (from

4th book review of Klaus Rohde ed.: The Balance of Nature and Human Impact. Cambridge University Press 2013
June 18th, 2015 by Klaus Rohde

The fourth review of the book edited by me has just been published in Quarterly Review of Biology, University of Chicago Press 90, pp. 211-212, June 2015. Reviewer is Professor Andrew Goudie, Professor of Geography, Oxford University, well known for his work on desert geomorphology, dust storms, weathering, and climatic change in the tropics, and his books on human impacts on the environment. For copyright reasons I include only two excerpts:

“There is more than ample evidence that humans are having an increasing impact on the environment through changes in land use and land cover, climate change, and globalization of organisms. A big question, which this book aims to answer is ‘what will be the ecological responses to such changes’? Will certain tipping points be passed for certain organisms and ecosystems?

The book is composed of 27 chapters and has 30 authors from a range of countries, with a particularly strong contingent from Australia. It covers various taxonomic groups, including plants, nematodes, mammals and birds, and a range of marine, freshwater and terrestrial environments. It is very strong with respect to debates about equilibrium and non-equilibrium states at a variety of scales from populations to communities and to ecosystems of varying spatial extent. ”

“………… individual chapters have great merit and the overall message is a very important one. Parts I, II and III are valuable because of the light they throw on equilibrium concepts, while Part V includes useful case studies…….”

Earlier reviews here:

The third review of the book edited by me has just been published in Biological Conservation 182, 281-283 (February 2015)
Reviewer is Brian Drayton, TERC Cambridge, MA, USA,
who gave me permission to use excerpts from his review.

For earlier reviews see here:

This latest review covers two books:

Green Equilibrium: The Vital Balance of Humans and Nature, Christopher Wills. Oxford University Press (2013). xxviii+280 pp.,
and The Balance of Nature and Human Impact, Klaus Rohde (Ed.) Cambridge University Press (2013). xvi+413 pp.

Excerpts dealing with the book edited by me follow:

“These two books make good companions, and it is instructive to read them side by side. In doing so, the reader can reflect upon a central challenge to conservation science, and to the societies within which it carries out its business.”


“Klaus Rohde’s fascinating edited volume The Balance of Nature and Human Impact offers a snapshot of current research, exploring
evidence for or against equilibrium processes from an array of systems, interspersed with reviews of literature on selected topics. A brief gallop through the table of contents can only suggest its wealth of provocative entries.
Part I: ‘‘Nonequilibrium and equilibrium in populations and metapopulations’’ examines reef fishes ……..
ectoparasites on terrestrial hosts …….. and marine parasites. Part II: “Nonequilibrium and equilibrium in communities’’ examines plankton communities ……, community stability in relation to fire ……., marine and freshwater ectoparasite communities ….. and small mammal ectoparasites …. , and bird populations and communities. Part III addresses ‘‘Nonequilibrium and equilibrium on geographical scales’’ in the context of island flora and fauna …… and arctic vascular plant diversity and spatial variation ……… Part IV: ‘‘Latitudinal gradients’’ focuses on diversity gradients… the literature providing evidence for and against equilibrium and nonequilibrium explanations,” and ‘‘effective evolutionary time.’’
Part V: ‘‘Effects due to invasive species, habitat loss and climate change’’ is by far the largest section. …….. the section marks a transition, as all the rest of the book looks at ‘‘biocomplex’’ (coupled humannonhuman)systems—where the nonhuman component may include insects … coral reefs ….. , emerging infectious diseases ……., human impacts on biodiversity …… , amphibians …….. , and reptiles ……. Part VI: ‘‘Autecological studies’’ comprises two articles: ‘‘Autecology and the balance of nature—ecological laws and human-induced invasions’’ …… and ‘‘The intricacy of structural and ecological adaptations: micromorphology and ecology of some Aspidogastrea’’.
Part VII: ‘‘An overall view’’ sets much of the foregoing into a larger theoretical and practical context, coming back to the
challenges faced by conservation biology in a world in at least one kind of chronic disequilibrium: anthropogenic climate change. Rohde discusses interspecific competition as a regulator of communities, and the status of evolutionarily stable strategies. Finally, Rohde and co-authors discuss ‘‘How to conserve biodiversity in a nonequilibrium world.’’ Here we come to the crux of the matter. As Wallington et al. (2005) argue, much conservation strategy betrays an underlying ‘‘balance’’ orientation, which often takes the form of creating reserves and assuming that they will ‘‘do the job’’……….; or of reintroducing species or otherwise restoring a system, and then assuming that short-term success will last (also not a safe assumption……………. Rohde et al. argue cogently that in the world we now inhabit, equilibrium assumptions will result in deep design weaknesses in many conservation strategies, and the kind of reflective research represented by this volume as a whole must result in substantial innovation.”


“Both books under review make the case ……. that the unexamined assumption of ‘‘balance’’ has contributed to many of our current ecological crises, and inhibits proper responses to them. In some cases, a naive reading of ‘‘balance’’ contributes to the assumption that in time, any disturbance caused by human activities will be remedied by Nature as it comes back into balance. In other cases, the ‘‘balance of nature’’ is reified without sufficient understanding of ecological systems and their dynamics, so that intended remedies result in further, different disturbance or even system transformation. Our challenge …….. is to convey a much richer, but perhaps just as satisfying, understanding of the way things work, and the implications of that understanding for what conservation must become. As Donald Worster (1994) wrote in his seminal treatment: ‘‘It is a pattern of behavior based on the idea that preserving a diversity of change ought to stand high in our system of values, that promoting the coexistence of many beings and many kinds of change is a rational thing to do. . . .Such a strategy of trying to conserve a diversity of changes may seem paradoxical, but it is founded on a crucial and reasonable insight. We may have to live with change, may even be the products of change, but we do not always know—indeed, we cannot always know—which changes are vital and which are deadly.’’

2nd book review of Klaus Rohde ed.: The Balance of Nature and Human Impact. Cambridge University Press 2013

The review, by Professor W.E.Williams, was published a few weeks ago by Choice Reviews, copyright American Library Association.

For copyright reasons only short extracts are included here. For a previous review see

……… specifically addressing two questions: the extent to which equilibrium processes, particularly competition,…..describe natural ecological systems, and whether ……..human disturbances–climate change, land-use change, introduction of invasive exotics, and so on–primarily upset existing equilibria or instead amplify disequilibria already present. Twenty-four papers and three concluding chapters examine these questions in widely different ecosystems, ….. plankton, coral-reef fishes, Australian birds, animal parasites, and many more. There are 29 contributors to the volume, ………Each chapter contains its own extensive list of references, and the book’s index is quite good……….. the book will appeal primarily to academic ecologists, although some essays are general enough to be useful to those more broadly interested in human ecological impacts. Summing Up: Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates, graduate students, researchers/faculty, and professionals.
2nd book review of Klaus Rohde ed.: The Balance of Nature and Human Impact. Cambridge University Press 2013

1st Review of Klaus Rohde ed.: The Balance of Nature and Human Impact. Cambridge University Press 2013.

This review, by Aldina M.A. Franco, School of Environmental Sciences, University of East Anglia, was published online (Advance Access) in “Integrative and Comparative Biology”, October 22, 2013, pp.1-3.
For copyright reasons, only short extracts are included here.

“Human impact on the natural environment has reached unprecedented levels. Humans are present on all continents; almost all ecosystems have been modified by human activities through habitat loss and fragmentation, overexploitation, pollution, and invasive species. More than 35% of the land area is used for agriculture and built-up areas, 40% of the terrestrial productivity is appropriated by humans, 50% of all coral reefs are lost or degraded, 70% of recognized marine fisheries are fully exploited, over- exploited or depleted; humans use more than 50% of the available runoff of fresh water. In addition, human emissions of greenhouse gases and other pollutants have been associated with global climatic changes. The scale of the human impact on the planet now has global consequences; thus, many scientists argue that the world has entered a new era designated the Anthropocene.
This book summarizes ecological responses to global environmental change; it is relevant to interested readers of different backgrounds trying to understand why scientists are worried about current environmental change. Evidence shows that in geological times species have appeared and disappeared as the climate and ecosystems changed. Ecosystems are dynamic and adapted to those changes, however, as clearly demonstrated in Chapter 13, past climatic changes have occurred over large temporal scales, while human-induced impacts are occurring at a much faster rate. The question then is: will populations, communities, and ecosystems be able to respond to these fast changes in the environment or will the earth lose a large part of its biological diversity? This is discussed in detail in Part V, which is particularly interesting to students and the general public; it gives an overview of the impacts of human activities for a range of taxonomic groups.”


“Part VII—The overall view
This section includes two last chapters that are written for a wide audience. Chapter 25 summarizes previous chapters and the main messages of the book. Chapter 26 presents a wide variety of facts on how the Australian press and TV have misrepresented the debate on climatic change. It is clearly argues that powerful individuals (corporations) dictate the general public’s views on important scientific debates that need a societal discussion (e.g., global climatic change and our ethical responsibility toward preventing other species’ extinction and the deterioration of ecosystem services). The main message of this book is that understanding equilibrium and disequilibrium conditions is fundamental to better predict the consequences of global environmental change on natural systems and, I think, this is ultimately needed to guarantee human long-term persistence on earth.”

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