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John L. Capinera, Editor
Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dordrecht, The Netherlands
2004, 2,580 pp. (Vol. 1: 1–815; Vol. 2: 817–1618; Vol. 3: 1619–2580)
The Encyclopedia of Entomology is an attractive three-volume set that fills a previously unexplored niche—a comprehensive multisubject reference—in the entomological literature. Dr. John L. Capinera, the editor, and more than 350 international experts collaborated to create this reference set. The books are organized alphabetically, with volume one spanning A through E, volume two F through O, and volume three P through Z.
This work addresses several subjects associated with the discipline of entomology, which are detailed at the beginning of volume one in the "Highlights of the Encyclopedia of Entomology" section. The Encyclopedia emphasizes 15 primary topics: 1. major taxa of insects and their near relatives, 2. other groups, 3. morphology, 4. physiology, 5. genetics, 6. behavior, 7. ecology and evolution, 8. microbiology and pathology, 9. humans and insects, 10. notable and pioneer entomologists, 11. pest management, 12. pesticides and pesticide application, 13. pest groups and their management, 14. medical and veterinary entomology, and 15. arthropods of economic importance. The "major taxa" are orders; and "other groups" are mostly notable arthropod suborders, families, or genera. Multiple subtopics are listed for each main category, and the end result is an impressive array of information, with the more than 850 subtopics covering subjects as diverse as insect learning, meiotic drive, butterfly gardening, fossil insects, Microdon, arthropod viruses, potato pests, teaching entomology, tritrophic interactions, bluetongue disease, Willi Hennig, and cat fleas. It would be interesting to know the criteria for the inclusion of specific subtopics, such as individual distinguished entomologists or economically significant arthropods. Capinera or one of the specialists composed entries on subtopics listed in the "Highlights" section; he also wrote most of the unaccredited material (mainly definitions and cross-referenced subjects) that make up the remainder of the books.
The Encyclopedia of Entomology is intended primarily for college and university students, and secondarily as a general reference. The editor believes that a schism exists between entomologists and the public, and that entomological knowledge is not adequately disseminated, even though arthropods have an enormous impact on our world. Therefore, the books’ goals are to provide a general summary of insects and related arthropods, communicate essential information about the importance of arthropods, and make entomological discoveries and fascinating facts accessible. In addition, because entomological literature is often not readily available to nonscientists, the authors provide numerous references throughout the volumes.
Capinera et al. cover an admirable amount of material, which is a difficult task because of the interdisciplinary nature of entomology; and it is convenient to have such a wide variety of information in one location. And although it is impossible to include or address every subject, some topics were overlooked or underrepresented. One frustrating characteristic of the encyclopedia is that highly specific entries are discussed at length (i.e., parasitism of Lepidoptera defoliators in sunflower and legume crops and adjacent vegetation in the Pampas of Argentina), whereas comparable sections for related subjects (i.e., other parts of the world, alternative pests, or different crops) are lacking. Furthermore, some of the entry titles are quite obscure, and it is unlikely a reader would think to search under certain headings (e.g., methods for measuring crop losses by insects, or mechanical protection of humans from arthropod attacks and bites). Increased entry cross-referencing, title revisions, and an index might improve this problem. Although the general degree of cross-referencing is good, it could be improved (e.g., "bulb mites" and "mite pests of crops in Asia" referenced under mites, a separate entry for Acari, etc.). Also, because of the alphabetical organization of these volumes, readers may be frequently switching between all three books.
Another negative aspect of this reference set is the disparity in entry composition. Although this is likely related to the scope of the work and the number of authors, the composition could be more uniform. Entries written by experts are often lengthy and include references; whereas other sections are extremely brief (a few lines) and lack references. Additionally, although the book is partially intended for nonentomologists, some of the writing, terminology, and technical aspects may be too advanced for novices. Thus, the overall feel of the Encyclopedia of Entomology is a cross between an encyclopedia and a dictionary.
However, these volumes have several attributes that make them a valuable resource. One outstanding feature is the succinct summary and organization of an enormous amount of material related to entomology. Most entries listed in the "Highlights" section are further subdivided within the text. For example, "decomposer insects" contains general information, as well as specific sections on 1. decomposers of plants remains, 2. entomofauna of excrement and corpses, 3. decomposers of corpses, 4. forensic entomology, 5. decomposers of excrement, and 6. beneficial actions of decomposer insects in ecosystems. Thus, each subtopic is thoroughly discussed in a scholarly manner. Explanations of terminology, structures, and basic concepts make this set extremely useful to students and other beginners; and the alphabetical layout makes these books easy to navigate. Another convenient feature is the taxonomic breakdown of each order, and cross-referencing of families and other groups. Additionally, the Encyclopedia has numerous high-quality pictures, diagrams, and graphs, although extra visuals are always beneficial. Overall, these books provide an extensive overview of entomological information and a solid foundation from which readers may explore more advanced resources.
A unique reference, the Encyclopedia is appropriate for introductory entomology classrooms, undergraduate and graduate students, and the public. Students will find this a handy resource for finding basic facts, exploring research topics, and studying for preliminary examinations. Teachers can consult the books for background information for lectures or labs. Although this set may not be overly helpful to extension agents or researchers who require more specific materials, anyone with an interest in entomology, even professional entomologists, will find these books a useful reference. In summary, Capinera and his coauthors have done an admirable job in creating the Encyclopedia of Entomology, and although the price tag may be somewhat detrimental for students, these books are worth the expense.
Deirdre A. Prischmann
South Dakota State University
Department of Plant Science
SNP Box 2140C
Brookings, SD 57007-2141
Vol. 52, No.2, Summer 2006