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The Ornaments of LifeTheodore H Fleming and W John Kress

University of Chicago Press, £35.00

The Ornaments of Life describes the beautiful animals – from birds to bats to monkeys – that have a key role in forest infrastructure. In the tropics, in addition to the usual invertebrate pollinators seen elsewhere in the world, many of these eye-catching vertebrates play a vital part in pollination and seed dispersal. This mode of seed dispersal enhances the genetic diversity of plant species in a habitat.

This is a thorough and extensive literature survey of what is known about the coevolution of many of the vertebrate-plant mutualisms in the tropics. The effects of pollinator species loss is also covered by an overview of habitat decline and the resulting loss of biodiversity. Included are some stunning – if small – photos of the species described.

The complex interactions between species in a tropical habitat are difficult to fully understand without detailed study. The sheer number of species present in the tropics makes this difficult, so species loss can occur before we are able to understand what we are losing. There is still a chance to conserve many species, however. This book, being so thorough in its use of the scientific literature, gives us one clear reason after another why we urgently need to protect many of the world's key habitats.

Dr Amanda Hardy AMSB

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