An Editor’s View: Ecology in Action


Senior Commissioning Editor of Life Sciences Dominic Lewis tells us about an exciting new textbook that is scientific, timeless and witty.


It’s always interesting to hear an editor’s point of view, and we recently discussed Ecology in Action by Fred Singer  with Dr. Dominic Lewis, the Senior Commissioning Editor of Life Sciences at Cambridge University Press.

“Ecology in Action is a brand new textbook for undergraduates, on 1 or 2 semester ecology courses. Fred D. Singer brings over 20 years’ experience of teaching a variety of ecologically related courses to this exciting book. The emphasis is very much on helping and engaging the students to learn (hence the in Action part of the title), through a variety of ways. The book highlights real world experiments and provides the relevant data to help the students get a grasp on the ecological concepts. One of the unique aspects are the research chapters, which bring to life the careers of some of the most well-known scientists in the field (Bernd Heinrich, Jane Goodall, Anne Pusey, Dan Janzen, Winne Hallwachs, and Jane Lubchenco), Fred interviewed all of these people and traces their careers from student through to the present day to demonstrate to the students how a career in ecology can be developed. Another really neat feature is that as part of the online material, we have some R manuals (one for the students and the other for the lecturers), which will teach the students how to analyse data using the free to download R software. Fred indicated that he’d like something like this, but wasn’t comfortable writing them himself. So, these manuals have been developed by Edd Hammill (Utah State University). When I was a PhD student at Glasgow University, I used to demonstrate labs to Edd who was an undergraduate at the time. A while ago we bumped into each other at a conference and realised our connection and have stayed in touch. Since then Edd has gone onto forge his career in ecology, and a few years ago approached me with this R manual that he’d developed through his teaching. At the time, I wasn’t convinced that it was right for a book, but when Fred mentioned to me that he wanted this sort of resource, a light bulb went off (that doesn’t happen very often!!), and I remembered Edd’s manual, which I thought would be perfect for this job. For the online material, Edd worked with Fred, to ensure that he incorporated the same data that is used in the book, so they link seamlessly together, through the ‘Dealing with Data’ features, something we’re not aware of in any other undergraduate ecology textbook. It also maintains Edd’s witty and amusing writing style, which I hope will help the students to learn how to analyse their data.

As a commissioning editor, when Fred initially got in touch about this book, I got one of those feelings that this was a special book and the sort of thing that doesn’t land in your in-box very often, if at all. From day one, it has been a pleasure to work with Fred in getting to the point of publication, I’ve hung out with him and his wife (and how could I forget his dog, Cheyanne!) at his home, and we’re meeting up in New York in a few weeks’ time, so that I can take him into our office to introduce him to our sales and marketing staff (and consume a few martinis I would have thought too!). It’s the book that I’ve wanted to publish, since I started my career at Cambridge, over 10 years ago. I have extremely high hopes for this book and really do believe that it has many new features that are not present in the competitors, and I very much think that once lecturers get their hands on this, they’ll want to use it to teach from.”

Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Dominic!

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