Cover image: Beatriz Aurora

Professors John Vandermeer and Ivette Perfecto have authored a new book, Ecological Complexity and Agroecology, published by Earthscan from Routledge.

Vandermeer is the Asa Gray Distinguished University Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor. Perfecto is the George Willis Pack Professor in the University of Michigan's School for Environment and Sustainability.

The book "reflects the immense current growth in interest in agroecology and changing approaches to it, "according to the book summary. "While it is acknowledged that the science of ecology should be the basis of agroecological planning, many analysts have out-of-date ideas about contemporary ecology. Ecology has come a long way since the old days of 'the balance of nature' and other romantic notions of how ecological systems function. In this context, the new science of complexity has become extremely important in the modern science of ecology. The problem is that it tends to be too mathematical and technical and thus off-putting for the average student of agroecology, especially those new to the subject. Therefore this book seeks to present ideas about ecological complexity with a minimum of formal mathematics.

John Vandermeer and Ivette Perfecto inspecting a coffee plant in Mexico. Image: Michigan News

The book has an introductory chapter and a second chapter providing some of the background to basic ecological topics as they are relevant to agroecosystrems (e.g., soil biology and pest control). Overall, the book seeks to engage a part of the new agroecology movement, which can be seen as a combination of four contemporary themes, "1) a strong scientific foundation, 2) traditional and local knowledge, 3) social/political organization and 4) local natural systems. The book focuses on the first of these themes, the "scientific foundation that provides a broad understanding of the ecological principles that underlie agroecosystems."

The authors dedicated the book to the memory of Richard (Dick) Levins, who they describe in the preface as one of their inspirations for the text, referring to him as “colleague, comrade and mentor.” Their experiences with the current rural social movements around the world, especially the Zapatista movement of southern Mexico, reinforced their ideas that “science should be aimed at the needs of the people, not profit. According to Vandermeer "Our experience as participants in scientific meetings organized by the Zapatistas, a group of revolutionary indigenous peasants in southern Mexico, stimulated both our science and commitment to seeking a better world."

View an online preview and purchase the book. Several copies of the book are in the EEB office for borrowing.

Compiled by Gail Kuhnlein