At first glance it may seem odd that the Royal Society of Chemistry has brought out a book on biodiversity

Biodiversity under threat 

R E Hester and R M Harrison (eds.) 

Cambridge, UK, RSC Publishing 2007 | 272pp | ?49.95 (HB) ISBN 9780854042517 

Reviewed by Dennis Rouvray

At first glance it may seem odd that the Royal Society of Chemistry has brought out a book on biodiversity, as this is a topic of seemingly little relevance to chemistry. More mature reflection, however, quickly reveals that this subject has everything to do with chemistry, most notably because biodiversity is all about the maintenance and expression of the chemical information stored in the DNA molecules that form the genes in living species. 

It has taken millions of years for these precious little bundles of information to evolve into their present state and if for any reason they are lost they are quite simply irreplaceable. Unfortunately such loss is now occurring with increasing frequency. Since 1600 no less than 784 different species has been recorded as extinct, and currently over 700 other species are either endangered, vulnerable or conservation-dependent. As the richness of our genetic inheritance becomes ever more diminished, there are likely to be some severe consequences for our own species.  

The present book provides a very valuable introduction into environmental science and technology in general, and biodiversity in particular, for those who are not specialists in this area. It explains with admirable clarity the major issues now confronting us and goes on to outline a number of possible solutions. It points out, for instance, that to maintain biodiversity we need to work simultaneously not only on genetic biodiversity but also species and ecosystem biodiversity. 

The book satisfactorily covers many hot topics, including the loss of biodiversity in our tropical forests, in the oceans and in the insect kingdom. It also takes a critical look at current agricultural practices, the extensive use of fertilisers, and ever increasing habitat destruction.  

This is a timely, thoughtful and authoritative account of the current state of play on the ecological battlefront.