Freshwater Life

Freshwater Life

Freshwater Life - Southern Africa : Freshwater Life: a field guide to the plants and animals of southern Africa. Griffiths, Day, Picker (eds) 2015. Struik Nature, Cape Town. 368pp At long last. I have been waiting for this for years. Since Varsity in the 1970s. Meanwhile there has

Freshwater Life: a field guide to the plants and animals of southern Africa.

Griffiths, Day, Picker (eds) 2015. Struik Nature, Cape Town. 368pp

At long last. I have been waiting for this for years. Since Varsity in the 1970s. Meanwhile there has been the superb series of books on wetland animals and plants, but that is strictly for the lab with microscope and forceps. But nothing handy for the field.

My initial reaction was one of: oh no! What on earth have they included the birds, and frogs and fish and plants – and even Dragonflies - for? We have dozens of guides for them: what we need are the wetland goggos! That is what they should have focussed on! And yet, less than two weeks on, I like it. Much easier than trawling through dozens of field guides. It is all there: everything you need for wetlands between two covers.

Some 30 authors contributed to this. That is not evident at all. All experts in their fields. Editing their contributions to a single uniform and seamless guide must have taxed the editorial team no end: and yet, there is no evidence that this was not written by a single author. The consistency and detail between groups is meticulous! To all concerned: very well done.

Of course, one could not expect all groups to be covered equally. So "all" proper wetland vertebrates are in at species level. And many plants. Different goggos are dealt with to various levels: species (Brine Shrimps, Crabs, Dragonflies, Medusas, Muscles, Sprites), genera (Amphipods, Green Algae, Leeches, Mayflies, Moss Animals, Isopods, Snails), families (Beetles, Bugs, Caddisflies, Damselflies, Flies, Sponges, Stoneflies, Waterfleas, Watermites – no mean achievement, ), and orders (Copepods, Springtails), with representatives of many other groups (Diatoms, Ciliates, Cyanobacteria, to name a few). All in all a very respectable balance between swamping the field guide with too much detail, and being too superficial.

A request for the next edition. Please separate tadpoles from frogs; and also in the insect groups: Dragonflies, Mayflies, Beetles and Flies – please treat the larvae separately from the adults. Mixing them may make taxonomical sense, but this is supposed to be a field guide – one needs to compare and match and at present the entries are too scattered and muddled. Perhaps for tadpoles a dorsal view is preferable to a side view: that is what one sees! And some dental diagrams too – to help illustrate the LRTF!

The book is worth it for the introduction alone. No teacher or student should contemplate not reading it.

So 9 out of 10! At last the serious and casual student of wetlands has an indispensable field companion and bible! And a world first: I have yet to find a near-equal worldwide.

20 Nov 2015
Tony Rebelo