Review of “Fundamentals of Ecotoxicology” by Michael C. Newman

The following review will be published in one of the coming issues of Integrated Environmental Assessment and Management (Remember that you can print the post as a PDF or send it around as an email by clicking on the corresponding button at the end of the post):


Book Review „Fundamentals of Ecotoxicology“, 4th edition

by Michael Newman

The book “Fundamentals of Ecotoxicology” is a modern classic of the ecotoxicological literature, published in 2015 in its 4th edition (the first one was published in 1999). The book as a whole is undoubtedly the brainchild of Michael Newman, although it is peppered with quotations and longer contributions from a range of renowned experts, each providing his/her own specific expertise. This provides the book with a personal perspective and a very distinct flavor, which sets it positively apart from the legion of multi-author volumes on the market that often lack personal engagement and internal coherency. Simply put, the volume is a textbook in the best sense of the word: entertaining, educating and thought-provoking.

The book is largely written from a US perspective – which is not surprising, given that the author is working at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science. Every now and then I felt that the book would have benefited from taking a step back in order to explore issues and concepts that are not that commonly applied in the US. For example, a discussion of the precautionary principle and its implications for the practice of ecotoxicology and the accrual of scientific knowledge would have been interesting, given its major importance in other parts of the world.

The book often goes beyond its promise to provide just the fundamentals of ecotoxicology. I found chapter 1 especially valuable, which provides a historical perspective, a brief treatise of the underlying philosophy of science and an overview of recent developments. This is also partly because of J. Cairns’ contribution to this section, which provides my new favorite definition of what ecotoxicology actually entails: “…an attempt to provide some rules for the planetary game that human society is playing”. The concluding remarks in chapter 14 neatly round off the book by linking back to the introductory chapter.

Every now and then the volume also goes beyond being a textbook for academic education and approaches the realm of a reference book. This certainly makes it valuable beyond its use as an introductory text. However, the book therefore tries to be complete, which, given the available space, is not always successful. For example, I have mixed feelings regarding the attempt to introduce “the major classes of contaminants” in chapter 2. Not only because it is largely a judgement call to decide what actually constitutes a “major” contaminant, but especially because, given that contaminants comprise tens of thousands of chemicals, such a compilation has to remain painfully incomplete if squeezed into one chapter in a single volume textbook. For example, herbicides, by far the biggest pesticide group, are summarized in just a couple of lines.

Chapters 6 to 12 are at the heart of the book and systematically explore the science of ecotoxicology, from molecular effects to landscape and global impacts. This hierarchical treatment of ecotoxicology is often a characteristic of Michael’s texts and it works extremely well to introduce of general principles and mechanisms, and then to explain how they link together. All fundamental principles are explained by a careful selection of illustrative case studies. However, the reader should be aware that the book has a strong bias towards using examples from experiments with animals, studies from the realm of plant or microbial ecotoxicology are comparatively rare.

These six central chapters cover an enormous breadth of topics, and also provide the mathematical / statistical underpinnings or shortcomings of standard approaches, always keeping the principles in focus, i.e. without getting lost in too many numerical details. The interested reader might be referred to Michael’s book on “quantitative ecotoxicology” for an advanced in-depth treatment of the numerical aspects of ecotoxicology.

Chemical risk assessment, the activity to which the majority of ecotoxicological work ultimately aims to contribute, is discussed in a separate chapter near the end of the book. The US perspective of the author becomes obvious here, which is why the appendices, written by international experts on the subject, are of tremendous help for the reader to develop a global perspective.

Already the earlier editions of the book have served me well in my courses on fundamental and advanced ecotoxicology. This new edition is certainly going to continue with that tradition. It comes highly recommended as the textbook on the fundamentals of ecotoxicology. The main text does not only provide naked facts, but is a well woven fabric of facts, personal insights, experiences and critiques by the main author – lined with insightful contributions from additional experts, suggested readings, various appendices, study questions and an extensive glossary. This structure makes the book as a whole refreshingly unique and engaging. Beyond its excellence in the subject matter, the book therefore also provides a prime example of how a modern academic textbook should look.

680 pp. Hardcover. ISBN 978-1466582293. $68.95. CRC Press, Boca Raton, FL.

Thomas Backhaus

University of Gothenburg, Sweden

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