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

Tuesday, December 17th, 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.

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

Sunday, November 10th, 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.”

Oswald Spengler re-visited. Where will American politics lead us?

Friday, January 4th, 2013

Oswald Spengler’s book “The Decline of the West” (“Der Untergang des Abendlandes”) has influenced influential historians and philosophers. Robert W. Merry, who has written extensively on American history and foreign policy, has given a concise and well argued discussion of the book and its implication for the present state of world affairs and particularly American politics.

Merry’s full article here:

Debunking Economics: Steve Keen

Thursday, October 9th, 2008

I  watched the ABC’s 7.30 Report yesterday (8.10.08), in which Steve Keen, Professor of economics at the University of Western Sydney, was interviewed about his views on the present global financial crisis. This reminded me of a book I read about four years ago by Steve Keen: Debunking Economics. The Naked Emperor of the Social Sciences. Pluto Press 2001. I read it very carefully from beginning to end, making numerous annotations, but had forgotten most of it.
I recommend the book strongly to anybody who is interested in economics, but particularly to those who believe that they have all the answers about the economy, without being blessed with the necessary background knowledge.

Steve Keen wrote the book to correct the misleading teaching of economics at universities. According to him (p.5), many students do only introductory courses in economics and then take their wisdom into their careers as managers, politicians etc. “They might learn, for example. that ‘externalities’ reduce the efficiency of the market mechanism. However, they will not learn that the ‘proof’ that markets are efficient is itself flawed. One needs an understanding of quite difficult areas of mathematics to realize the intellectual weaknesses of economics. ” However, Keen does not target economics in general, but the mainstream ‘neoclassical economics’.

A few quotes from the book:

p.2: “Economists blame these crises on particular economic policy failings by the relevant governments… Yet many non-economists harbour the suspicion that perhaps these crises were in some sense caused by following the advice of economists” This perspective was recently supported by none other than Joseph Stiglitz, a renowned economist, Chief Economist and Vice-President of the World Bank (he gives the examples of the collapse of the Russian economy after rapid privatization, and the Asian crisis, where the IMF’s enforcement of austerity seriously worsened a crisis which had been initiated by the international capital markets).

p.4: “Virtually every aspect of conventional economic theory is intellectually unsound; virtually every economic policy recommendation is just as likely to do general harm as it is to lead to the general good”.

p.7:”though weather forecasts are sometimes incorrect, overall meteorologists have an enviable record of accurate prediction” whereas the economic record is tragically bad.

p.8:”the intellectual discipline of economics shows no tendency to reform itself.”

p.11: the book’s message, that the economic mantra (“individuals should pursue their own interests and leave society’s overall interests to the market”) is wrong, is not new. Many books have made the same point in the past. What is new about this book is that it makes that point using economic theory itself.

Keen ‘debunks’ almost every assumption of neoclassical economics, including equilibrium assumptions. For each argument, he goes back to the basics, such as Jeremy Bentham’s utilitarianism, which really is at the basis of neoclassical economics with its claim that human behaviour is the product of innate drives to seek pleasure and avoid pain.

Of particular interest in the context of the present financial crisis is his detailed discussion of causes of crashes, e.g., those responsible for the Great Depression (the economic guru of the time, Irving Fisher, was dead sure that stock markets had permanently stabilized just weeks before the crash, an assumption based on his equilibrium theory, later distilled into the efficient markets hypothesis. He personally lost $100 million in the crash. He changed his ideas incorporating nonequilibrium assumptions. When the crash was over, people happily returned to his efficient market hypothesis, although it had been proven wrong).

I leave it at that and, again, recommend the book.

See also:

Nonequilibrium Ecology: Latest Book Review

Saturday, January 5th, 2008

The latest book review of my book Nonequilibrium Ecology, Cambridge University Press 2005, has now been published in Austral Ecology 32, November 2007, pp. 834-835. It is by F. Patrick Graz, a plant ecologist at the University of Ballarat, Australia. He has done work on various aspects of plant ecology, in particular the dry woodland savanna in southern Africa. Extracts of his review follow. Unfortunately he got my name wrong, not infrequently done by authors who cite my work. I correct this error in the extracts.

“Populations do not exist in isolation but interact with the biological and physical environments in which they occur. In his book, Nonequilibrium Ecology, Klaus Rohde discusses various aspects of such interactions with respect to population and community development. Rohde, clearly an expert in his field, consolidates more than 500 references to compare the relative importance of equilibrium and nonequilibrium in relation to natural populations.”

“The first chapter introduces and defines nonequilibrium in populations and communities, and provides a brief review of the development of the concept over time. The chapter also reviews empirical evidence for populations tending towards an equilibrium, and populations and meta-populations in nonequilibrium conditions. At the end of the chapter, Rohde highlights the concept of vacant niches. The concept is central to the development of his discussions and is dealt with in various sections of the book. The author recognizes the controversy surrounding the concept, as evidenced in later chapters, where he also provides supporting arguments and examples for its role in the development of communities and diversity.
Chapter 2 reviews the coexistence of individuals in different assemblages and communities that are either in apparent equilibrium or in nonequilibrium. He shows the importance of environmental disturbances in this context. In the final section of the chapter, Rohde defines the concept of a vacant niche for the purpose of further discussion. He also considers non-saturation of species assemblages, citing a number of studies in support.
The subsequent two chapters review different forms of interspecific competition and their various effects on individual species and species assemblages. Rohde deals with competition in some detail, as he considers the concept of fundamental importance in the discussion of nonequilibrium ecology.”

“The concept of vacant niches/unsaturated communities forms a significant and convincing part of the discussion.
Chapter 5 explores processes that constrain and separate niches. The author argues that species may specialize to exploit particular microhabitats and to ensure mate finding, thus necessarily altering their exploitation of different parts of niche space. These specializations may reinforce themselves, in the form of further speciation. Chapter 6 explores the development of species diversity over evolutionary time, considering the exploitation of niche space.
Chapters 7 to 9 review and consolidate examples of equilibrium and nonequilibrium at three different scales of organization, that is, at the population/metapopulation level, community level and macroecological level. In these chapters, Rohde provides a range of examples from both terrestrial and marine systems.”

“The final chapter serves as a summary of the various topics discussed in the preceding ones and provides suggestions for future emphases in ecological thinking.”

“Throughout, the author provides numerous examples to underscore the various aspects under discussion.”

“The details pertaining to the individual organisms under study are generally useful, permitting the reader to understand the context of the studies cited.”

Some appendices and Errata of the book are available at:

Marine Parasitology. Book Review.

Tuesday, September 25th, 2007

These are extracts of the latest review of Klaus Rohde (editor): Marine Parasitology, CSIRO Publishing Melbourne and CABI Oxford (2005), published in Quarterly Review of Biology 82 (3), 293, September 2007. For previous reviews click here and here.

” The editor of this beautifully composed, comprehensive book is well known for his volume, Ecology of Marine Parasites: An Introduction to Marine Parasitology (1993. Second Edition. Wallingford (UK): CAB International). The present work has an array of 75 carefully selected international contributors, but otherwise has a format similar to Rohde’s 1993 treatise.

The book is extremely well edited with line drawings and photographs of high quality, and with informative tables.

This volume will be useful not only to those involved in marine biological research, but to biologists in general who wish to add another dimension to their backgrounds. Rohde’s work contains a plethora of zoological principles and evolutionarily interesting biological relationships for anyone who desires to add some exciting features to their teaching.”

The reviewer, John McDermott, is well known for his work on various aspects of marine biology.

Marine Parasitology, latest book review

Sunday, September 2nd, 2007

Here is an extract of the latest review of Marine Parasitology (CSIRO Publishing Melbourne and CABI Oxford), edited by me, as posted on the website of CSIRO Publishing. I shall add the complete review when available.

“This work should be considered the standard in its field.” “Individuals interested in parasites in any natural system would be rewarded by referring to this work.” “The rigor of the material presented is appropriate for scientifically sophisticated readers. Highly recommended.”
S.R. Fegley, Maine Maritime Academy, Choice Reviews Online

For earlier reviews see my post Marine Parasitology.

Nonequilibrium Ecology: Latest Book Review

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2007

Three earlier reviews of my recent book Marine Parasitology and one review of my book Nonequilibrium Ecology are mentioned in the relevant posts (NE, MP). They were the only ones available until a few days ago. A second one for Nonequilibrium Ecology has now been published in Ecology 88, No.5, 1338-1339.

The reviewer concludes that

“………………. Nonequilibrium ecology is a useful book providing much food for thought—even for ecologists considering selection and competition as factors of prime importance (like myself), it is healthy to be confronted with arguments and evidence to the contrary.”

However, he draws attention to a number of “deficiencies”, on which I comment in the following. Some of the reviewer’s statements are plainly wrong or misleading. I address these points in the order in which they are discussed in the review.

1) The reviewer writes that I view the terms equilibrium thinking and competition thinking as almost synonymous. There has been much debate on the meaning and definition of equilibrium and nonequilibrium, and I have given not an exhaustive, but a fairly comprehensive historical review of the concepts in the book, which makes it clear that there are very wide differences of opinion on this. It is obvious from the discussion in Chapter 1 of the book and from the various examples given, that I do not view equilibrium and competition thinking as being almost synonymous, even though many authors consider density dependence (usually thought to be due to competition) as a major characteristic of equilibrium.

In this context, according to the reviewer,”Viewed this way, empirical studies showing that populations are kept at equilibrium by predation pressure are viewed as evidence against equilibrium ecology. Conversely, limit-cycle oscillations and other complex behavior are subsumed under the heading “equilibrium dynamics”… This also is incorrect. On pages 13-15 and elsewhere I discuss examples in detail, which show that predation and parasitism may regulate host populations, leading to apparent equilibrium.

2) The reviewer further accuses me of placing too much emphasis on marine parasites, a “bias” which I supposedly “justify” by my own expertise and by the fact that parasites represent probably the largest component of the Earth’s fauna and should therefore not be ignored when determining the mainstream of ecological thought. He writes that even hard-core competition biologists will readily agree that parasites are often more strongly limited by their hosts than by their conspecifics, and that host-parasite interactions have an inherent tendency for exhibiting nonequilibrium behavior. He further claims that “Although they are of obvious ecological relevance, host-parasite systems just do not form the arena for the discussion on the relative importance of competition.”

I believe that these comments by the reviewer are misleading. Chapters 7-9 deal with detailed examples, of these, four sections with 19 pages are on marine parasites, one with 3 1/2 pages is on ectoparasitic insects (plant herbivores), seven sections with 47 pages deal with other groups. The two large chapters on interspecific competition make only some reference to parasites, and other chapters even less. Further, the comment that I justify my “bias” towards marine parasites by my expertise in the field, applies only to the autoecological example in Chapter 10, where I use Aspidogastrea, and one of them a freshwater species, and give as ONE reason the fact that I have done much work on them. The ratio parasites/free-living species discussed corresponds roughly to what one finds in nature. Importantly, contrary to the reviewer’s statement, in almost all cases I do not analyse host parasite interactions, but interactions between species in parasite communities. Furthermore, why should hard-core competition ecologists a priori agree that parasites tend towards nonequilibrium? Should one not analyse the data first, as done in my book? Moreover, the section on “Larval trematodes in snails” (pp.131-134) clearly shows that parasite communities, like free- living ones, may be strongly structured by interspecific competition. Indeed, many parasite ecologists believe in the great importance of competition in structuring communities. But importantly, as stated in the Introduction to my book, a majority of authors are prejudiced towards equilibrium assumptions because they select systems in which equilibrium is expected. The whole idea of the book is to remedy this situation by using examples from groups where equilibrium may be expected, and others from groups where it is not expected. As it turns out, there really are significant differences in equilibrium/nonequilibrium between groups, and this is explained in chapter 11 (Fig. 11.1).

3). The reviewer objects to some of my theoretical statements, foremost to my statement in the legend to Fig.1.3 that “x never reaches carrying capacity” in the bifurcation diagram of the discrete-time logistic growth model. Different interpretations are possible and I do not wish to comment on this further, except to state that two reviewers and the journal editor, all of whom have considerable experience in chaos theory, accepted my interpretation in a paper on chaos (Rohde and Rohde 2001 : Fuzzy chaos: reduced chaos in the combined dynamics of several independently chaotic populations. American Naturalist, 158, 553-55). Whichever interpretation one uses, it does not affect the validity of the conclusions (at which I have arrived in several earlier papers not using the bifurcation diagram in Fig. 1.2), i.e., that large oscillations in population density can occur even when conditions are constant, and that equilibrium may be established well below the saturation level.

The reviewer further criticizes me for applying the packing rules of Ritchie and Olff to fish parasites. He believes “that there is no reason to assume that the parasite fauna satisfies the assumptions of the model which was built for competing herbivores in a fractal landscape”. Within the context of the packing rules, I do not write that “that competition for limiting resources has not been important in evolution” (as stated by the reviewer), but much more cautiously that “these negative results support the view” (also shown by various other tests) “that parasites of marine fish do not live in saturated structured communities, but rather in assemblages not significantly structured by interspecific competition”. Ritchie and Olff did apply their packing rules not only to herbivores in a fractal landscape, as implied by the reviewer, but to plants as well. There is no a priori reason that they should not apply to parasites, whose “landscape”, because of their small size, may not appear patchy and fractal to us, but may in fact be so for many of them. It is important here to realize that parasites living in the same microhabitat may differ vastly in size! The packing rules provide an excellent model to test for competition in a fractal landscape for any group of plants and animals. One should not make any a priori assumptions. What is the point in testing if the answer has to be known in advance? Furthermore, Ritchie and Olff clearly were after something universally applicable. They write: “Spatial scaling laws provide potentially unifying first principles that may explain many important patterns of species diversity” and ” Packing rules yield a theory of species diversity”. Even if variability of the resource density and R(w) as an independent biological property are included in the model, there is no reason to assume that it is not applicable to parasites.- Most importantly, I am convinced the reviewer agrees with me that one should never base conclusions on a single model. Concerning the data analysed using the packing rules of Ritchie and Orff, they were also analysed using a variety of other methods, and they all led to the same conclusion: fish parasites live in communities largely unstructured by interspecific competition.

Finally, the reviewer criticises me for stating that the metabolic theory of ecology does not rely on equilibrium assumptions. In fact, the theory (as developed by the time when the book was submitted, and I do not believe now) “does not rely on equilibrium assumptions”, a belief which is shared by the one of the chief architects of the theory whom I contacted (see also Allen, A.P. and Gillooly, J.F. 2007. The mechanistic basis of the metabolic theory of ecology, Oikos in press). This does not mean that the theory does not make certain predictions on when equilibrium and nonequilibrium conditions may arise, but this is something quite different from “relying” on equilibrium assumptions.

Some appendices and Errata of the book are available at:

Review of Satire, Politik und Kunst

Wednesday, March 21st, 2007

Here is the first review of my book “Satire, Politik und Kunst”, Lulu 2006.


The book is in German, and so is the review. It is by a distinguished German polyglot, Josef Alvermann. He has wide interests, among others in Chinese and Japanese language and culture, and is a brilliant photographer and writer.

Die Grundvoraussetzungen der satirischen Tätigkeit wie der Wissenschaft sind Beobachtung, Analyse und Kritik. Beobachtung setzt Beachtung, ja Achtung voraus, und erst in die Be- und Verwertung gehen aufgrund der Polaritäten von richtig und falsch, wichtig und unwichtig usw. Elemente der Geringschätzung ein. Wissenschaft vermerkt dann das Positive; Satire gibt die Unzulänglichkeiten an. Die Wissenschaft wie die Tiefenpsychologie deckt auf, ‚entdeckt’; der Satiriker aber weist nur hin. Er legt (und stellt) nicht bloß, sondern macht nur aufmerksam auf Öffentliches und Offensichtliches. Er schüttelt oft den Kopf, schmunzelt, lacht und klagt und fühlt sich nur zu ‚Aufdeckungen’ genötigt, wo Unzulänglichkeiten, und es langt ja in der Welt hinten und vorne nicht, ihre Unschuld verloren haben und mit Feigenblättern und Feigheiten kaschiert werden. Doch wo Achtung endet, beginnt Verachtung, und die heitere Satire wird ernst. Der Satiriker selbst muss jedoch auch dann heiter bleiben. Ist es dem Autor des Buchs ‚Satire, Politik und Kunst’ gelungen? Den schnellsten und besten Indikator dafür stellen wohl die aussagestarken grafischen Arbeiten dar, die mehr als die Hälfte des Bandes einnehmen und durch ihren Humor und ihre Kunst viel Freude bereiten. Die unzimperlichen Texte, die in fröhlicher Umkehrung der Regel Illustrationen der vielen Abbildungen sind, enthalten – dem Stichwort `Politik´ im Titel gemäß – auch Verärgerungen und Verletzungen aktueller Art, die in den vielen Grafiken zeitlos verarbeitet wurden. Schön, dass sie nun auch einem breiteren Publikum zugänglich sind! Ich wünsche dem mutigen Werk viel Erfolg! Josef Alvermann, Baden-Baden.

18 Mar 2007
by Josef Alvermann

Some sections of the book can be read at


Review of Nonequilibrium Ecology

Saturday, February 24th, 2007

Here are extracts from the first review, by a distinguished ecologist, of my book Nonequilibrium Ecology ( The reviewer is well known for his studies of coral fish communities.

Book Reviews
Parasites and Passerines Tell Different Tales
Nonequilibrium Ecology. Rohde,
K. 2006. Cambridge University Press,
New York, NY. 234 (xi + 223) pp.
$120.00 (hardcover). ISBN 0-521-
85434-2. $60.00 (paperback). ISBN 0-
Passerine birds have had a surprisingly substantial impact on the development of ecological theory. Studies of birds, most often passerines, have been central to such topics as niche theory, resource partitioning, energy allocation, and optimality, and to the broad range of behavioral ecology topics such as parental investment, parent-offspring conflicts, and sexy sons. They have been important despite being a relatively species poor and ecologically atypical taxon. Passerines have strongly determinate growth; thus, juveniles are essentially full size at fledging, and individuals of a species are remarkably uniform in size. Consequently, each bird in a population has a very uniform set of ecological requirements and set of impacts on its environment, and these features remain largely constant throughout life. Passerines are among the less fecund organisms and provide much larger parental investments per offspring than is the case for any animals other than mammals. Passerines are homeotherms with high metabolic rates, and, perhaps because the requirements of flight limit their ability to store energy, they require a continuous supply of food and can quickly die in its absence. Finally, with the forelimbs specialized for flying and the hind limbs for perching, they are forced to use a quite inflexible jaw structure as the sole tool for food acquisition, manipulation, and consumption. In each of these aspects they are bizarre compared with the majority of organisms. In fact, as someone who does not work with birds, I marvel that they have been able to persist and diversify to the extent that they have. Intelligent design would never have produced such creatures—they are so tightly constrained by their morphology, ontogeny, and physiology that they must live continuously at the very edge of survival. It has always seemed strange to me that ecological ideas have been so heavily influenced by such atypical organisms. But then, some of the ideas central to ecological thinking have also seemed very strange to me, and maybe these two things are linked. Perhaps what is termed conventional ecology, or equilibrium ecology to use Rohde’s terminology, got that way because of the strange organisms that fueled its development. In his book Nonequilibrium Ecology, Klaus Rohde sets out to redress both issues. The author provides abundant examples from the ecology of parasites and other organisms to demonstrate that what may possibly be true for some birds is not necessarily the norm for other kinds of creatures. As its title states, the book is also an attempt to draw attention to the very considerable evidence for the idea that ecological systems—populations, communities, ecosystems—are normally (usually) not at or moving toward equilibrial conditions. In my opinion, a book like this has been needed for some time, and I am pleased that Rohde has written it.

……for those students and scientists who value hypotheses and the rigorous testing of them, it is clear that the equilibrium ecology that Rohde argues against is now but a tattered remnant of its earlier sparkling comprehensiveness. …Rohde’s book provides them with substantial ammunition to use in building a new, more realistic ecological paradigm.

……this is a useful book that should be read by any ecologist and particularly by any graduate student interested in a refreshingly different perspective on our science than the one dished up too frequently in survey courses and the conservation press.

Peter F. Sale
Biological Sciences, University of Windsor, Ontario, Canada, and United Nations University—International Network on Water, Environment and Health, Hamilton, Ontario P0B 1J0.

Conservation Biology 21, 282, February 2007