Sunday, October 16, 2016

Review: Diving Beetles of the World

Johns Hopkins University Press is an underrated publisher of natural history titles for both professional scientists and general audiences. Their latest example of impeccable quality is the book Diving Beetles of the World: Systematics and Biology of the Dytiscidae, by Kelly B. Miller and Johannes Bergsten. It is somehow fitting that a relatively ignored family of aquatic beetles gets its "coming out party" delivered by a publisher assumed to be mostly a purveyor of medical books.

Diving Beetles of the World should be a model for a serious and thorough treatment of any entomological subject. Every aspect of the biology, ecology, and classification of the family Dytiscidae is covered here. It is this placement of the beetles in a larger context that is so vital, and so often lacking in other technical publications devoted to various insect taxa. Creating an appreciation for a neglected family of organisms is no small feat, and this publication vastly exceeds expectations.

Rhantus gutticollis from Colorado

It helps greatly that the book is lavishly illustrated with detailed images of perfectly prepared specimens of the beetles themselves. Even a casual student of entomology will feel comfortable at once. Furthermore, keys to the subfamilies, tribes, and genera of diving beetles are likewise illustrated with line drawings and clear, magnified images of critical parts of the beetles' anatomy. Were that not enough, there are also maps showing the global distribution of each genus.

The summary for each genus includes a "diagnosis" of physical characters peculiar to that genus, in case you missed anything during your journey through the keys; a history of classification and relationships to other genera; a description of diversity that includes the number of species currently recognized for that genus; a natural history indicating what habitats and niches the particular genus occupies in nature; and finally a distribution description that complements the maps.

Thermonectus marmoratus from Arizona

The authors, one American and one European, fully recognize the fluid nature of insect taxonomy and have cited virtually every paper and publication written previous to this current work. This sets the stage perfectly for ongoing and future investigations into the Dytiscidae.

Considering that aquatic ecosystems are arguably the most critical habitats on the planet, this book deserves to have an impact far beyond entomology. Every aquatic biologist, environmental consultant, and citizen scientist needs to have this volume in their library, or at least seriously consider it. Should you not make the purchase yourself, please suggest it to your university library.

Colymbetes sculptilis from Massachusetts

Indeed, the only unfortunate aspect of this tome that does not recommend it is the price: $150.00 U.S. Easy for me to enjoy my review copy while my readers are looking at a major expense, no doubt. Still, this is an important work, not just a gift for "the entomologist or naturalist who has everything." How to reconcile quality work with an affordable sale price is a question for another blog, and believe me I am open to suggestions. In the case of Diving Beetles of the World, the product commands the monetary value assigned to it.

Note: Images other than the book cover are my own and are not featured in the book.

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