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The Ecology of Migrant Birds: A Neotropical Perspective
By John H. Rappole, Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington and London, 1995. 269 pp.


Neotropical Migratory Birds: Natural History, Distribution, and Population Change
By Richard M. DeGraaf and John H. Rappole, Comstock Publishing Associates, Ithaca and London, 1995. 676 pp.

Rarely does one succeed in having published two major scientific works in the same year. It is even less likely both works would be regarded as landmark contributions to the field, as are the above titles by Dr. John H. Rappole '68.

The first is a summary and analysis of a problem of increasing interest and importance that did not surface until the 1970s. The recent focus on the ecology of migratory bird species was a natural outcome the serious population declines exhibited by many migrant species and the concurrent intensive destruction of neotropical forests and other neotropical ecosystems resulting from activities associated with human population growth. The cause/effect relationship seemed obvious and undeniable. To many ornithologists and ecologists the declines appeared to have reached critical proportions before the problem was recognized.

Dr. Rappole points out that migratory bird populations are especially vulnerable to extinction because, unlike non-migratory species, they depend on different ecosystems in different geographical areas during their annual cycles.

His work has focused on the requirements of migratory species in their wintering grounds, an important step in determining the cause of the alarming declines that have been documented in more than one-third of all neotropical migrant bird species in the last decade.

He emphasizes the fact that the book presents the neotropical perspective and that this focus should not detract from the importance of breeding grounds in regard to the problem. In fact, the causal picture may be quite complex, and what is happening to neotropical habitats is likely to be only part of the problem -- although certainly a critical part.

To some, the present status of our migratory bird populations can hardly be considered catastrophic. It does, however, represent one more symptom in a long series that includes such concerns as acid rain, recent population crashes in neotropical and neotemperate amphibian and reptilian species, the greenhouse effect and the polar depletion of the ozone layer. These phenomena suggest a serious and general degradation of environ-mental quality.

The second book, co-authored with Richard DeGraaf of the U.S. Forest Service, is a valuable reference book for professional ornithologists, ecologists and biologists concerned with the conservation and management of wildlife resources. In addition, it will be of great interest to the dedicated and knowledgeable family of non-professional ornithologists who simply regard themselves as `birders.' They serve as a primary source of valuable information about the current status of migratory species on their breeding grounds.

Introductory sections of the book deal with the problem of population decline in neotropical migrants. Most of the book, however, is devoted to very useful life history summaries of 354 species of neotropical migrants. Each species account includes an accurate range map and information on current status, habitat, special habitat requirements and a list of references. It is alarming how often we read under the status heading such remarks as "uncommon, declining over much of its breeding range," "endangered" or "has declined since the early 1980s."

Two appendices list breeding and wintering habitats as well as population changes by physiographic region. These provide ready access to information about the requirements for and population trends in each species in each of the North American physiographic regions.

Dr. Rappole is director of research at the Conservation and Research Center of the National Zoological Park, Smithsonian Institution, Front Royal, Virginia. A pioneer in the ecology of the wintering grounds of neotropical migratory species, his field studies in Mexico, Belize, Costa Rica and other neotropical and neotemperate wintering grounds have resulted in more than 25 important papers published in scientific journals over the past 20 years. Those who knew him at Colgate would not be surprised by his professional success. Even during his student days his knowledge and love of animals and plants was impressive. One might well have predicted that he was destined to make outstanding contributions such as these to the field of biology.

Robert Goodwin
Professor of Biology Emeritus


On Teaching

David Peck '60, professor of English at California State University, Long Beach, is co-editor with John Maitino of Teaching American Ethnic Literatures: Nineteen Essays (University of New Mexico Press), which features scholarly criticism on works by such famous authors as James Welch, Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Sandra Cisneros and Amy Tan.

Written specifically for instructors in literature courses, the essays focus on longer works of prose in each of the four major ethnic literatures of the United States: Native American, Mexican American, Asian American and African American. Each essay is accompanied by bibliographies and pedagogical strategies for helping students appreciate texts from a variety of cultures and traditions.