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Moore, T. 2004. Melillo, J. M., C. B. Field, and B. Moldan. 2003. Interactions of the Major Biogeochemical Cycles: Global Changes and Human Impacts. Scope Report 61. Island Press, Washington, D.C., USA.. Ecology and Society 9(2): 14. [online] URL: http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol9/iss2/art14/

Book Review

Melillo, J. M., C. B. Field, and B. Moldan. 2003. Interactions of the Major Biogeochemical Cycles: Global Changes and Human Impacts. SCOPE Report 61. Island Press, Washington, D.C., USA.

Tim Moore1

1McGill University

The last two decades have generated considerable interest in the study of biogeochemical cycles. Global Biogeochemical Cycles has the highest impact factor of the stable of journals published by the American Geophysical Union, and articles with biogeochemical themes appear frequently in highly ranked journals such as Ecology, Ecosystems, Ecological Applications, and Biogeochemistry. This theme has become popular because biogeochemistry has these abilities: (1) it can scale from the plot or watershed to the globe and link together the atmosphere, lithosphere, hydrosphere, and biosphere; (2) it can focus on the effect of human activities on the biogeochemical cycling of elements and substances; and (3) it has the potential to link various elemental cycles.

Interactions of the Major Biogeochemical Cycles: Global Change and Human Impacts is the 61st volume published under the Scientific Committee on Problems of the Environment (SCOPE) program, established in 1969 to bring together natural and social scientists to address environmental issues and their solutions. This book, edited by Jerry Melillo, Chris Field, and Bedrich Moldan, arose from a meeting held in Prague in October 2002 to assess advances in the field. Their laudable and ambitious aim was the fast publication in six to nine months of the main findings of this meeting. This aim appears to have been met: the book was published in 2003 and received for review early in 2004. Approximately 50 authors contributed to the various chapters, so the authorship reads like a partial list of Who's Who in Biogeochemistry. The book is a complement to the more coherent examination of stoichiometry in ecology by Sterner and Elser (2002).

The book comprises five sections plus an introductory overview by the editors. The sections deal with crosscutting issues, theory, the lithosphere, the atmosphere, and the hydrosphere, in that order. This is an unusual structure, in that one might have expected theory to come first and crosscutting issues last. However, the main purpose of the book is to examine the interactions between elements within biogeochemical cycles and the ways in which human activities such as disturbance have altered these interactions, so there is some sense to the structure. Each section consists of three or four papers: those in the crosscutting section are multiauthored, whereas those in the other sections have a much smaller number of contributors. Although the titles of the lithosphere, atmosphere, and hydrosphere sections are broad, the papers are rather narrow. For example, the lithosphere section contains four papers, two on plants and roots and two on tropical agroecosystems. The hydrosphere section contains two articles on marine systems and one on carbon-silicon interactions from the land to the ocean. As a result, there is some unevenness in approach and content.

As with any volume that attempts to assess recent advances in the field, in this case by examining the stoichiometric principles established in a SCOPE volume published in 1983 (Bolin and Cook 1983), there will be a reiteration of existing information mixed with new insights and approaches. One indication of the value of such a book is the proportion of figures and tables that are new. Of the 45 figures, seven colorplates, and 22 tables in Interactions of the Major Biogeochemical Cycles, between half and two-thirds are original, newish, or without any clear publication elsewhere. This relatively high proportion suggests that editors and contributors are striving to present something new rather than repeating published material. The overall theme, as described in the preface, is to evaluate the applicability of stoichiometric models in biogeochemistry, where exceptions occur and why, and how the stoichiometric approach can be applied across spatial and temporal scales. The book, although not comprehensive, covers many aspects and examples in addressing these issues.

Six chapters will be of particular interest to readers of Ecology and Society. The second chapter, which has a bevy of authors, looks at human disruptions of element interactions, including drivers, consequences, and trends in the 21st century. It identifies three factors as the main drivers of changes in element interactions: (1) the intensification and spread of agriculture, urbanization, and industrialization; (2) changes in atmospheric chemistry; and (3) species introduction and removal. The effects of the consequences of these drivers, i.e., nitrogen deposition, sedimentation and erosion, climate change, and species composition, on elemental cycling are examined using examples from the literature. The chapter concludes by emphasizing the role that human activities have played in changing stoichiometric ratios, both overall and by increasing the range, and the importance of considering element interactions. The following chapter on disturbance and element interactions provides some interesting original collations on the effect of disturbance on elemental composition in terms of atomic number, the effect of fires, and nitrogen fixation and concludes with another call to consider stoichiometric relationships rather than individual elements and to integrate biological and geochemical aspects.

In a chapter on the potential for the deliberate management of element interactions to address major environmental issues, the authors draw a distinction between limiting the input of elements, e.g., reducing carbon dioxide emissions, and introducing a secondary, counteracting input, e.g., fertilizing ecosystems to increase carbon sequestration. This chapter tends to be more of a listing of examples and a call for a more comprehensive understanding of elemental interactions.

In the keynote chapter on stoichiometry and flexibility in the Hawaiian model system that opens the section on theory, Peter Vitousek assesses the extent to which stoichiometry and the rate of elemental cycling, i.e., its flexibility, have been useful in developing an understanding of forest ecosystems along an age gradient. Again, the message is the importance of melding biological and geochemical biogeochemistries and approaches involving multiple elements. The second paper in this section deals with theoretical considerations of element interactions and is a much abbreviated and modified version of a paper that recently appeared in Ecology (Hessen et al. 2004). It focuses on the balance between the intake of and demand for key elements, variations in this balance among the various trophic levels in ecosystems, and issues related to scaling from organisms to ecosystems. The final paper by Valerie Eviner and Stuart Chapin, on biogeochemical interactions and biodiversity, examines both the effects of loss of species and changes in species composition on biogeochemistry and vice versa. Included is a very useful table showing the effect of biogeochemical changes such as SO2 deposition, heavy metals, nitrogen additions, and elevated CO2 on changes in diversity and species selection, and examples of the reverse are presented. The authors emphasize that community composition plays a much stronger role in biogeochemical cycling than does species richness or any other measure of diversity, but that most experiments in this area have involved relatively constant conditions. However, under changing conditions, the role of species diversity in ecosystem processes and biogeochemical cycling is likely to gain greater importance.

Finally, the introductory overview of element interactions and life cycles sets the stage for what follows and concludes with several pieces of advice. The first is the need for a comprehensive theory of biogeochemistry in ecosystems that can capture variations in both spatial and temporal scales, which echoes the age-old wish for more theory in ecology. The second is that new technologies such as molecular and nanotechnologies should be embraced, even though the book contains no examples of these technologies; a chapter on the successes and failures of isotopic or remote sensing approaches in biogeochemistry might have been worthwhile. The third suggestion involves the need to design and implement experiments with mulitfactoral/multitreatment and long (> 5 yr) components despite the fact that this will reduce the number of systems that can be studied. In their closing thoughts, the editors also advise researchers to exercise caution by drawing upon what they already know, to expect surprises as further human impacts reveal new and unanticipated elemental interactions, and to take advantage of interdisciplinary links through partnerships. Interestingly, most of the participants at the meeting could be classified as ecologists of varying hue, and perhaps a future meeting could draw participants from other disciplines to cement the notion that interdisciplinarity is critical for further progress.

Because of the high original content, the speed of publication and the generally high quality of the papers, this book is a welcome addition to the biogeochemistry literature and may be worthwhile reading for other disciplines.


Melillo, J. M., C. B. Field, and B. Moldan. 2003. Interactions of the Major Biogeochemical Cycles: Global Change and Human Impacts. Island Press, Washington, D.C., USA. 320 pp., paperback, U.S.$35.00, ISBN 1559630663.


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Bolin, B., and R. B. Cook, editors. 1983. The major biogeochemical cycles and their interactions. SCOPE 21. John Wiley, Chichester, UK.

Hessen, D. O., G. I. Agren, T. R. Anderson, J. J. Elser, and P. C. de Ruiter. 2004. Carbon sequestration in ecosystems: the role of stoichiometry. Ecology 85:1179-1192.

Melillo, J. M., C. B. Field, and B. Moldan. 2003. Interactions of the major biogeochemical cycles: global changes and human impacts. Island Press, Washington, D.C., USA.

Sterner, R. and J. J. Elser. 2002. Ecological stoichiometry: the biology of elements from molecules to the biosphere. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey, USA.

Address of Correspondent:
Tim Moore
Department of Geography
McGill University
805 Sherbrooke Street
Montreal, Quebec, Canada H3A 2K6
Phone: 514-398-4961

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