16 of 40 people found the following review helpful
on May 29, 2006
Prof Wilson is one of the most productive, brilliant scientists and leader in conservation, with a background in ant systematics (the science of the description of the species of our planet). This revision of Pheidole (a re-analysis of all the known facts of species of a particular group, including the description of so far unknown species), is a resumption of his early work. It includes the description of many hundred species of Pheidole ants from the Americas, and the usual explorative chapter tests the ground for a new idea, in this case to explain issues on diversity. The descriptions themselves are extremely short and lacking detail, unlike any other descriptions published, and, amazingly, the 624 species covered do not include many species already collected. An accompanying CD includes color images of about half the species mentioned.
The book though has one serious flaw. Access to taxonomic information is widely recognized as one of the main stumbling block in the conservation of biodiversity. There is an effort to make all this literature with well over 10 million pages online accessible (see for example the biodiversity heritage library), and to produce a single Web page for each species, what Wilson calls the Encyclopedia of Life. However, Prof. Wilson's Pheidole book remains copyrighted and thus prohibits the building up of these enormously important tools. This still did not happen, even more than two years after he was quoted in the August 28, 2003 issue of the scientific journal Nature, that the publishers (Harvard University Press) is putting the book online. Harvard University Press and Prof. Wilson's attitude clearly do a disfavor to conservation and access to scientific data, even heralded by them, and thus sets the wrong precedence. Finally all the Pheidole species he deals with are from the developing world, where hardly any of the local scientists can afford to spend USD125 for such a volume, and access to data would be the least one ought to do for benefit sharing, if not to foster capacity for conservation work on site.