Book Reviews

Book Reviews

Vitis: Biology and Species

"This book is a fascinating journey into the viticultural world and biodiversity, jealously guarded by man starting from the Mediterranean, in the oceans, islands and continents. The authors narrate the symbiosis of man and Vitis, the most generous genus, in which rural and scientific knowledge are admirably reflected and fruitful technological innovations ripen. The reading invites, with a look at the past, to appreciate the inestimable values preserved in the wine-growing landscapes and, at the same time, look with confidence to the future, inspired by the search for harmony between man and nature."
Prof. Adamo Domenico Rombolà
Professor of Viticulture
University of Bologna


This book offers a comprehensive physical theory of the earthquakes. The presentation level is rather mathematical, but thorough physical explanations are provided everywhere. It is an original monograph of Seismology, intended for the use of students, researchers and the public who wish to become familiar with the physics and mathematics of earthquakes. It provides the understanding of the earthquakes and specific knowledge we may have of them. The author is a scientific researcher in the Institute for Earth's Physics at Magurele, with scientific publications on the theory of elasticity, focal mechanism of earthquakes, seismic waves and statistical analysis of seismic events.

Desertification: Past, Current and Future Trends

"Desertification, which is generally regarded as a special case of land degradation, has been an issue of global concern for decades. Some would even suggest that the international environmental treaties, such as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the United Nations Convention on Biodiversity (UNCBD), have their roots in the desertification crisis of the Sahel in the mid-1970s, in which hundreds of thousands of people and their livestock suffered. Certainly, the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), which was adopted in 1994, emerged out of international efforts to address the problems of land degradation in the drylands of the world, particularly those in Africa. Several books on the desertification theme have recently been published (e.g. Behnke and Mortimore 2016; Reed and Stringer 2016) with more in the offing (e.g. Glantz 2020). It is clearly a highly topical issue and this contribution, edited by Victor Squires and Ali Ariapour, is both timeous and relevant to the debate. The book is comprised of 10 chapters, six of which are either authored or co-authored by the editors. Because of their background and experience, case studies from Iran and China have a stronger emphasis in this volume than is usually the case. However, the first chapter by John Oswald and Sarah Harris provides a very useful and balanced global overview of the desertification debate, which I would recommend as necessary reading for anyone wishing to undertake research in this field. The origins, definitions and critiques of the term ‘desertification’ are discussed and the contribution that the study of desertification has made to all three of the United Nations conventions listed above, as well as the more recent Sustainable Development Goals, is up to date and helpful. This chapter also outlines clearly the indirect and direct drivers of land-cover change and provides a brief, but valuable guide to the different approaches available for identifying and monitoring desertification from remotely sensed images. South Africans will also be pleased with the inclusion of a chapter on the changing narrative on desertification and degradation in South Africa by Graham von Maltitz, Lehman Lindeque and Klaus Kellner. Their review provides a fresh perspective on the debate and is notable for the inclusion of some of the findings from the comprehensive FAO-funded, Land Degradation Assessment in Drylands (LADA) project that was initiated in South Africa in the first decade of the 21st century. What is especially useful in this analysis, is the formal inclusion of invasive alien plants and bush encroachment as key indicators of degradation, as well as a section on the South African policy framework, which has been established to address issues of desertification and mitigate the effects of drought in the region. Aziz Hirche and 13 colleagues, mostly from North Africa provide an interesting account of long-term changes in the arid steppe vegetation of the three Maghreb countries of Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco. Despite the recent increase in rainfall in the region these authors argue that species richness and total cover of vegetation has declined significantly since 1978, primarily as a result of overgrazing. They suggest that their field-based measurements are at odds with the conclusions derived from remote sensing studies, which, in general, suggest that cover, and net primary production has increased in recent years. Because of the importance of the Sahel and the marginal environments of the Sahara in any desertification debate, their conclusions are worthy of greater exposure and further analysis. Another novel contribution is provided by Daniel Neary from the Rocky Mountain Research Station in the United States who outlines in some detail, the potential contribution that wildfires make to desertification at a range of spatial scales. He shows, for areas in the American south west, how the area burnt by wildfires per decade has increased by more than three orders of magnitude since 1990, and describes this impact on soil erosion and land degradation in the region. Fire is not traditionally considered a significant driver of desertification, but Daniel Neary makes the case for it to be taken more seriously by researchers and practitioners alike, especially in areas where fire is a common feature in the landscape. The remaining chapters led by Ali Ariapour and Victor Squires, outline the extent of desertification, primarily in Iran and China, and describe how local people have adapted to living in hot, dry environments. The main focus in these contributions, however, is to document the extensive efforts that have been undertaken to prevent or even reverse land degradation in these countries. Although an extensive list is provided of the large-scale, state-led actions taken to prevent or mitigate the effects of land degradation, for example in China’s Kubuqi Desert region, a deeper and more critical analysis of such interventions would have been helpful. It is difficult to assess the success and transferability of such initiatives when the narrative is so unreservedly favourable in its tone and content. There is a short vignette in the second last chapter by Victor Squires on the role of grazing ruminants in desertification processes, whereas the final chapter by the two editors provides a brief summary of the key take home messages in the book. They suggest that, although the word ‘desertification’ might have given way to the more inclusive term ‘land degradation’ the environmental problems faced by many communities in the drylands of the world, as a result of changes in both abiotic and biotic factors, remain urgent. There are a number of useful chapters in this book that summarise several of the key issues involved in desertification studies and provide access to the literature from parts of the world that have not received a great deal of attention to date. These contributions would have been enhanced, however, had greater attention been paid to grammar, style, readability and uniformity of layout, especially in terms of the figures and graphs. In addition, an analytical overview of the desertification theme, as is promised in the title of this book, would be expected to contain some geographical context. This requires clear, easily interpreted maps to inform readers of the seriousness of the degradation issues involved and how these might have changed over space and time. Unfortunately, despite the inclusion of more than 30, potentially very useful maps in the book, most are unreadable, either because of the low resolution of the text in the legends, or because it was often impossible to distinguish one shade of grey from another on the map itself. Complicated, remotely sensed images, with several different land use or vegetation cover classes can rarely be interpreted correctly using grey-scale gradations and for this reason are usually produced in colour. Authors, editors and publishers contributing to this field should be aware of this expensive requirement and, if possible, should prepare accordingly. The overall impact of this book would have been significantly improved had greater attention been given to the more technical side of its production."
References: Behnke R, Mortimore M (eds). 2016. The end of desertification? Berlin, Germany: Springer-Verlag. Glantz MH (ed.). 2020. Desertification: environmental degradation in and around arid lands. Boca Raton, Florida, United States: CRC Press. Reed MS, Stringer LC (eds). 2016. Land degradation, desertification and climate change. London, United Kingdom: Routledge.
M Timm Hoffman
Department of Biological Sciences
University of Cape Town
Cape Town, South Africa

Estimation Methods in the Romanian National Forest Inventory

"The increased recognition of the functions and ecosystem services provided by forests underlines the need for reliable and up-to-date information on forests. Producing quantitative, diversified, and trustable information on forest states and dynamics is the aim of the National Forest Inventories. Their methods are very specific, complex, and deserve a complete presentation as endeavoured in this book for the Romanian Forest Inventory.
This inventory, one of the last implemented in Europe, had to cope with the challenging context of the Carpathian forests. The development of the sampling design and estimation methods is built on the experience accumulated by older inventories and represents a fruitful collaboration coordinated by the European National Forest Inventory Network (ENFIN).
The detailed information on the sampling and the estimation methods provided by this book offers a deep insight on the statistical background of forest inventories and their implementation. It constitutes a solid basis for understanding the principles of forest survey. This book is addressed to a large audience: from inventory specialists to researchers who desire to gain insights on the methods used in forest surveys."
Dr. Klemens Schadauer
Debuty Director of BFW

Tribology in Geology and Archaeology

"Tribology, the science of interacting surfaces in relative motion, has traditionally focussed on its technological applications, such as the issues of machine fatigue, the cost of friction in mechanical engineering and similar aspects of great economic importance. However, the present book on Tribology in Geology and Archaeology has presented the pioneering work of the author on the new fields of archaeotribology and tribology of rock art research which were never thought of before." READ MORE... - Professor Giriraj Kumar, Rock Art Science and Indian Culture, Secretary General, Rock Art Society of India

"Like the occurrence of middle-range theory has influenced the development of archaeology during the late 20th century, the publishing of this book should also bring a lasting theoretical impact to rock art research of the next decades." READ MORE... - Dr. Jin Anni, International Centre for Rock Art Dating and Conservation, Hebei Normal University, China

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Environmental Disasters and Land Grabs as Crimes against Humanity

"Laura Westra's relentless pursuit of scholarship manifests in her 40th book. It emerges from her determination to protect the environment through the principle of ecological integrity. Supported by the application of health measurement tools, Dr. Westra uses legal arguments to point to injustices imposed on the most vulnerable by the most powerful in our current economic world order. She identifies a genocidal trend against indigenous knowledge exposed using epidemiology to reveal the criminal dimensions that result in environmental disasters. While epidemiology can demonstrate impacts only after the fact, its utility lies in preventing ongoing harms and injustices through the causal mechanisms exposed from evidence and knowledge. Dr. Westra makes the connections with outrage. Her purpose is to inform humanity of legal mechanisms to re-direct its collective path towards a sustainable future." - Colin Soskolne, PhD, Doctor of Philosophy in Epidemiology, Professor emeritus, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

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