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Fire in the tropical biota

Fire in the tropical biota: ecosystem processes and global challenges. J.G. Goldammer, ed. Ecological Studies 84. Berlin, Springer Verlag. 1990.

Described in the book's preface as the "first pan-tropical and multidisciplinary monograph on fire ecology", Fire in the tropical biota is a product of the Third Symposium on Fire Ecology, held at Freiburg University in Germany in May 1989. A team of 46 scientists cooperated to assemble this broad treatment of fire-related ecosystem processes. The book is divided into 21 chapters covering tropical and subtropical terrestrial fire ecology, fire history, climatology, atmospheric chemistry and remote sensing. According to the editor's preface, additional material on fire-soil and fire-wildlife interactions will be considered in a separate volume. Of particular interest is the chapter providing annual and regional estimates of releases of CO2 and other trace gases into the atmosphere as a result of fires in the tropics.

The book is written in a readable, narrative style and is illustrated with graphics and black and white and colour photographs of excellent quality. Each chapter is accompanied by an extensive list of literature citations.

As may be expected in a work of this magnitude, some errors have crept into the text. For example, a table puts the remaining primary forest cover in Brazil at 2 percent whereas recent assessments of the Brazilian Amazon indicate that more than 90 percent of this forest, or at least 40 percent of Brazil's total forest area, is still intact.

Despite it's flaws, however, the book otters a comprehensive accessible treatment of a subject that is of vital interest. It is a valuable reference both for workers in the field of tropical fire ecology and general forest ecologists as well as deforestation an climate change specialists.

W.M. Ciesla

International directory of wildland fire

International directory of wildland fire. J. Greenlee, ed. Roslyn, Washington, USA, Fir. Research Institute. 1990.

This first publication of the United States-based Fire Research institute lists the names, addresses and specialities of more than 20 000 institutions, vendors, products, services and publications related to wildland fire issues including management, research and product development. Representing three years of research and preparation, the directory is intended as a tool to help fire managers communicate more effectively. A digital version of the publication is also available in ASCII for importation into virtually any MS-DOS word processing program.

International directory of wildland fire

The first issue of the directory (to be published annually) shows the "growing pains" that went into its production. In fact, the Director of the Fire Research Institute confesses that the "homemade" appearance of the directory is a result of its having been produced by the institute on its own press. Moreover, In the introduction the publication requests readers to report errors and suggest additions. Nonetheless, the directory is a welcome addition to the fire manager's bookshelf.

The Fire Research Institute is a non-profit organization founded in 1983. In addition to the International directory of wildland fire, the institute publishes an annual International Bibliography of Wildland Fire, containing more than 40 000 indexed bibliographical references; and an international quarterly, Wildland Fire.

The outlook and risks for Mediterranean forests

Les forêts méditerranéennes: enjeux et perspectives. Les fascicules du Plan Bleu (No. 2). Hanri Marchand et al. Paris, Economica.

This volume of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Action Plan for the Mediterranean focuses on one of the essential environmental components of the Mediterranean basin: the forest. The Mediterranean forest has been intrinsically interwoven in the lives of its population since time immemorial. The close interaction between humans and the forest has sometimes been stable, but more often it has been unbalanced and detrimental to the vulnerable forest area.

Over the past 150 years, the status of the Mediterranean forest has changed considerably. In the north, economic development and increasing agricultural productivity has led to the abandonment of agricultural land and its reconversion to forest. However, this forest area has been left virtually unmanaged. On the other hand, urbanization and population increases In coastal areas have led to a decrease in forest area.

In the southern and eastern sectors of the Mediterranean region, the forest is under increasing pressure from a growing and resource-poor population. Regeneration of natural stands is being impeded by excessive fuelwood removal, livestock overgrazing and forest clearance for farming.

The author begins by describing the Mediterranean natural forest, its historical evolution, geographical boundaries and ecological characteristics. He notes the richness and variety of the vegetation which features more than 40 major tree species, including 15 different oak (Quercus) species, and considerable genetic diversity.

However, the author also notes that the region's woody vegetation is unstable and vulnerable. Over the millenia, soil erosion has produced notable changes in the composition of the plant cover and accidents such as forest fires benefit certain species at the expense of others. Certain species, such as the Tassili cypress (Cupressus durpeziana), are in danger of disappearing completely unless they are afforded deliberate protection by humans.

The author then describes the current and particularly complex status of the Mediterranean forest. He notes the lack of accurate quantitative data over time and, in particular, the absence of recent inventories of the total forest area in the eastern and southern sectors of the region.

With regard to land ownership, the author observes that statutory and customary law overlap in North Africa and the Near East, a fact which has produced varying and ambiguous results. Population groups living near woodlands have contested the demarcation or registration of land classified as "forest" and the poorly regulated rights of use have often been abused.

The function of the Mediterranean forest is not only to produce timber, fuelwood and (particularly important) livestock forage, but also to protect the surrounding areas against erosion, avalanches, floods and other natural disasters. The forests have furthermore been developed for hunting and recreation and for use as nature reserves and wildlife parks. Mediterranean forest land-use planning is therefore inextricably linked to overall land management and needs to satisfy biological, social and economic considerations which extend beyond the forest level.

The author subsequently sets out the possible alternative scenarios of his forward-looking study, based on current trends, ongoing actions, the role of the main protagonists and options for action. He notes that the growing awareness of ecosystem degradation, genetic resource loss and irrational natural resource use has not yet led to significant practical measures.

The future of the Mediterranean forest will depend on a large number of interrelated factors, including: social trends; the land-use planning principles adopted; the functions assigned to the forest; research achievements; funding possibilities and priorities in the countries concerned; and cooperation among the Mediterranean countries.

This volume (available in French only) is published under the aegis of the UNEP Action Plan for the Mediterranean, adopted in 1975 and implemented by the Mediterranean countries and the European Economic Community. The Action Plan (referred to as the Blue Plan) is primarily dedicated to analysis and prediction of the future interplay of pollution, resources, environment and development throughout the Mediterranean basin. The English version of the principal report is entitled Futures for the Mediterranean basin: the blue plan (Oxford, Oxford University Press. 1989).

H. Hadri

Plant biotechnologies for developing countries

Plant biotechnologies for developing countries. A. Sasson & V. Costarini, eds. City, UK, The Trinity Press. 1990.

This publication presents the proceedings of an international symposium on plant biotechnologies for developing countries, organized by the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA)1 and FAO in Luxembourg from 26 to 30 June 1989. Keynote addresses, delivered by acknowledged authorities in their fields, include: Biotechnologies and developing countries: present and future, by A. Sasson; Technical aspects of plant biotechnologies, by Y. Demarly; Molecular and cell biology applications to plant breeding, by F. Salamini, D. Bartels and C. Gebhardt; Development of new crops using recombinant DNA technology, by C. van den Eende and M. van Montagu; Plant biotechnologies in developing countries: the breeder's perspective, by R. Riley; The impact of plant biotechnologies on developing countries, by B. Touré; and The socio-economic impact of biotechnologies on developing countries, by F. H. Buttel. Additional chapters in the book deal with the current status of plant biotechnologies in developing countries (five papers); and reports of symposium workshops dedicated to specific plant groups. The final substantive chapter is entitled The role of the private sector in transferring plant biotechnology to the developing world.

1 The Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) operates under the Lomé Convention between members of the European Community and the African, Caribbean and Pacific States. The aim of the CTA is to collect, disseminate and facilitate the exchange of information on research, training and innovations in the spheres of agricultural and rural development and extension.

The Mediterranean forests play a key role in protecting agricultural areas

The report and conclusions of Workshop 4, dealing with perennial crops, would be of special interest to the readers of Unasylva. This workshop examined the state of the art, progress and general issues in biotechnology with regard to fruit-trees, palms, multipurpose trees, coffee, tea and cocoa. The workshop deliberations were based on the six solicited papers published in the present book and nine brief presentations on various crops. The conclusions and recommendations of Workshop 4 are also published in the FAO Forestry Department's newsletter, Forest Genetic Resources Information, No. 17 (1989).

C. Palmberg-Lerche

Working paper on biodiversity issues

Biological diversity: its conservation and use for sustainable agricultural, forestry and fisheries development. Rome, FAO. 1990.

This working paper, based on the work of Dr G. Namkoong, was prepared under the direction of the FAO Sub-Group on Biological Diversity of the Inter-Departmental Working Group on Environment and Sustainable Development. It explores some concepts and issues of biological diversity, suggests cooperative action that may be taken to strengthen the conservation and equitable use of resources and examines FAO's role in the conservation and management of genetic resources on a global scale.

Some of the key issues raised and discussed in the working paper are highlighted below:

- The biotic heritage of humanity is being abused to such an extent that the evolutionary dynamics responsible for the diversity of life on which we depend is threatened. Species protection is a necessary but not an adequate measure; the conservation and use of biological diversity must entail its management end development as well as protection.

- As biological diversity presents variations at all levels - molecular, individual, population, species and ecosystem - management efforts require careful intersectoral and interdisciplinary coordination.

- Critical phases in the development and use of biological diversity include collection; characterization; selection; enhancement and other pre-breeding activities; evaluation; and testing of target species. For many species, intensive genetic management is not practical and in these cases ecological management can be used to increase biological diversity.

- Management efforts directed at one species can have beneficial or detrimental effects on the diversity of other species.

- FAO has a clear mandate to ensure the conservation and full utilization of the global biotic endowment for sustainable development and to assist in developing and managing a coordinated global programme in this field.

Copies of the working paper may be obtained from the Environment and Energy Programme Coordinating Centre, FAO, Viale delle Terme di Caracalla, 00100 Rome, Italy.

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