Matthew R. Fisher
Copyright Year: 2018
Publisher: Open Oregon Educational Resources
Conditions of Use
The text is composed as an introductory environmental science text. Consistent with the title of the book, the focus of the book is clearly set on biological processes with some additional consideration given to water issues, air pollution, and... read more
The text is composed as an introductory environmental science text. Consistent with the title of the book, the focus of the book is clearly set on biological processes with some additional consideration given to water issues, air pollution, and energy. The introductory chapter of the book also provides a brief introduction to scientific inquiry and the concept of environmental justice. The textbook’s approach to environmental science is generally descriptive and qualitative, making the text in my opinion appropriate for a general education or liberal-arts based course. I personally consider working with data and problem solving a key skill for science classes and this is something that is at present not reflected in the text and would need to be supplemented.
For me, as a non-biologist, the biology chapters (Ecosystems, Ecology, Biodiversity) are most comprehensive, while still being accessible. Subsequent chapters covering water, air, and energy production are much more condensed and lack, in my opinion, a bit of depth. For example, climate change is covered only as a subsection of the air chapter and is treated in very broad strokes. A more detailed treatment of the science of climate change, regional and system specific climate change impacts and connections to the societal causes of anthropogenic climate change would have been helpful. A similar argument could be made for air and water pollution, which have large negative impacts on human health.
Also, and given that energy is a key component of the Earth system and human society, more details on their workings and key associated environmental issues would be helpful.
The book does not contain an index or glossary, but key-terms are bolded highlighting important definitions and concepts. The addition of a summary index would be good, but the full text can be downloaded as a searchable PDF.
Overall, the content appears to be accurate and unbiased. The main limitation of this introductory text is that there is sometimes lack of detail or depth to the chapters on larger environmental issues, such that some important context (e.g. for climate change) is missing. I noticed one specific accuracy issue arising from this, for indoor air pollution. The section on indoor air pollution in the section on air pollution is titled: “Indoor air pollution (Major concerns in developed countries)” seems to imply by omission that indoor air pollution is mainly an issue in developed countries. However this is not the case as indoor air pollution from cooking fires presents a major health hazard globally. The chapter on human health (Chapter 6) correctly mentions this and it would have been good to reiterate this in the dedicated air pollution chapter.
Environmental science and current environmental issues such as air pollution, climate change, and biodiversity loss require regular updating of the text. The last major update to the text was in 2018 and sections are reasonably current. This text is based on two other open textbooks, OpenStax “Biology” and “Essentials of Environmental Science” by Kamala Doršner and I feel that the chapters of OpenStax are more current than the "Essentials" chapters. For example the water chapter contains a figure (Ch 7.2, Figure 2) about water scarcity that contrast 1995 as current with 2025 as the future and several graphs end in 2005 or present snapshots from c. 2005. I also found that number and figures in the human health and food chapters do not reference specific time periods, when comparing regions. For example, malnourishment and obesity are compared between regions (Ch 8.1, Figure 1) with no reference from when this data is. The accompanying text only makes reference to the last 20 years without specific a reference time. I understand that adding clear reference times, increases the need to keep the text current, but at least for the figures that is something that should likely be done and could also be easily accomplished by the individual instructor.
Regarding climate change and air pollution, it would be good for the text to make reference to recent updates (e.g. the 4th National Climate Assessment) or the IPCC 1.5 degree special report or current trends in greenhouse gas emissions.
On a very positive note, the text does expose students to the ideas of environmental equity, environmental justice, and environmental racism, which is timely and unfortunately not yet standard.
The book is generally written in language accessible for lower-level college students or upper-level high-school students. Technical terms are clearly defined and bolded in the text and sometimes reappear to reinforce concepts. I would say that the text is sometimes a bit too dry giving clear explanations with context and direct appeals to interesting tidbits relegated to a few interspersed boxes and case-studies.
The text appeared to be consistent. I noticed that there are some minor formatting issues in the print-PDF, with some weird page changes and indentations, but this was not overly distracting from the contents. I noticed some imbalance in the way figures are used in the text: some chapters – like the biology chapters – have many figures demonstrating concepts, while other chapters for example chapter 1 seems to use photos as illustrations to visually break up the text.
I think the book is as modular as it gets, and it would be possible to re-arrange most chapters without confusing the reader. Chapters and chapter sections are fairly short with descriptive headings and concise, making it easy to divvy up readings/ work across class periods. I feel that sometimes the text is bordering on being too modular. For example, overarching concepts such as sustainability and how they related to each topic could be more clearly referenced across chapters to remind students about the bigger picture issues.
Overall, the text has a logical structure, which is somewhat aligned with a bottom-up approach, after the introduction chapter the book covers biological topics from cellular biology to biodiversity and then pivots to environmental issues. I feel that either the book or individual instructors should provide some context on how these are related. There were a few instances, where I was surprised on how topics were arranged (for example joining air pollution, climate change, acid rain, and ozone depletion into a single chapter) or putting a box titled ‘Evolution in Action’ when talking about atomic composition. Similarly, the biodiversity chapter also includes a basic introduction to taxonomic groups, which at least for me feels out of place. At the same time, these are not major issues and can easily be overcome.
I noticed only minor issues. One caveat is that the print-PDF has some additional formatting issues and at least one table (Chapter 6.3, Table 2) is cut-off in the PDF but not in the online version.
Some of the figures could be higher resolution. Side-contents that is not part of the main text and labeled (‘Boxes’ or ‘Biology in Action’) could be more visually separated from the text (e.g. using actual boxes or shading). Some chapters contain QR codes to videos, which is a bit weird in the online version and even the PDF, since few students will use a printed copy and could simply access links directly.
I did not notice any major grammatical errors that reduced readability of the text.
I did not notice any issues regarding cultural insensitivity and the book introduces students to issues of environmental equity and environmental racism, which should be highlighted when discussing environmental issues. The book is somewhat U.S.-centric with examples and references to regulations on environmental issues somewhat focusing on the U.S., which makes sense given the intended audience and that regulations are highly country specific. Some additional examples or regional differentiation when discussing water and climate issues on the other hand would be beneficial.
The textbook covers the most important environmental topics. No index or glossary is provided read more
The textbook covers the most important environmental topics.
No index or glossary is provided
The accuracy is good
The treatment of the topics is contemporary. Future updates can be easily done.
There is a flow from chapter to chapter, with clear definitions and explanations.
The consistency is good
The textbook consists of 11 chapters, 342 pages, including end-of chapter review questions and an answer key.
The text is easy to navigate with a simple click (digital edition) from chapter to chapter, from one topic to another. Each chapter is provided with learning outcomes and a chapter outline.
It is well illustrated and provides online links, as well as lists of supplementary readings.
The grammar is good.
It provides with key case studies (Love Canal, The Aral Sea Crisis). It discusses Hetch Hetchy valley debate, The Tragedy of the Commons, among others.
Environmental Biology by Matthew R. Fisher can be used for beginner and intermediate Environmental Science/Environmental Biology classes.
I am reviewing this book for a 100-level general education introduction to environmental science course. While the book lacks some of the detail of big publishing house textbooks it is still very thorough. It has a good range of topics/chapters... read more
I am reviewing this book for a 100-level general education introduction to environmental science course. While the book lacks some of the detail of big publishing house textbooks it is still very thorough. It has a good range of topics/chapters and within the chapters it is comprehensive and includes enough explanation that most liberal arts students will not be confused by the content. It is, however, lacking is an index and glossary. The addition of those sections would improve the usability of the book immensely. In addition, I would have liked to have seen more depth (additional chapters) on some topics. Ecology is covered in a single chapter with community ecology, population ecology and human population all together. Human population growth could easily be covered as a stand-alone chapter rather than a sub-section of the fields of ecology. Also missing is a treatment of waste and waste management which deserve coverage (possibly it is the difference of 'environmental biology' vs. 'environmental science,' but it is relevant to biology and would have been a good addition). I like to cover fresh water and marine science in detail so would prefer a stand-alone chapter on oceans. Ditto for climate change which is covered along with air pollution and ozone depletion -- it deserves deeper coverage. Finally, I would have preferred the inclusion of a chapter on solutions/sustainability. However, this is one of the best OER texts on environmental science that I have come across and what it lacks in comprehensiveness can be made up through lecture and classroom activities.
I did not find many errors and those I found were not substantial.
There are a few places where time-sensitive numbers are used and those will become dated but that is not impossible to teach around. Most of the book is written in a rather modular style which will make updating sections relatively simple.
The book is written in a very understandable manner with explanations of terms that are complicated for students seeing them the first time around. The addition of a glossary would make me turn my '4' to a '5' since that gives students a quick way to look up terms that they can't quite remember.
Yes. The voice feels consistent throughout the book. The style remains the same for all chapters.
Very clean set up with chapters and sub-chapters for each topic. I like that the first page of every chapter has an overview of the chapter as a whole as well as short overviews of most of the sub-content. The chapter summaries are also helpful.
The organization is fine. I think that anyone teaching has their own style and will pair ideas differently, but it is not a problem to assign chapters out of order -- each stands alone without too much reference to previous material and so the instructor can essentially reorganize the book to suite their own teaching style. It starts with a good overview of the science and the issues that surround it and its implementation. The only thing I really lament is that the book ends with a chapter on energy. It did not feel very final to me, I would have liked to have seen a final chapter that tied the book together as well as the first chapter introduced it. I usually finish with (not-so-depressing) sustainable solutions to the problems that I have bombarded students with all semester and, if teaching with this text, would add an additional reading as a final assignment rather than end with the energy chapter from this book.
The online version is well-designed -- attractive and easy to navigate. I like the constant access to the Content menu while reading. The 'online,' 'pdf,' and 'ebook' links all opened to the same Open Oregon page for me, so I can't say comment the book would feel in printed form. The links to extras like videos, etc., all seemed to work and added to the educational experience in a non-obtrusive manner for those who want to use them.
I think I found one spelling error. Mostly it is a very clean book.
I found the book to mostly focus on environmental science with little content that might be perceived as offensive. There is an introductory section on environmental justice and indigenous struggles. I thought that it was well-written and addressed the topics in a manner that was factual and inoffensive.
I think that this is a great OER textbook. It may not be the 'perfect' textbook, but is written in a way that including outside material to address missing content or skipping content that is not as relevant to the course being taught, will be a simple task to do. I appreciate that the 'voice' and organization are approachable for students who have not had a lot of science background and that this text informs without overwhelming.
I examined this book with two possible courses in mind: a non-majors environmental science course, and a 200 level ecology course for majors. For non-majors, it was nearly comprehensive (about a 4). It covered the primary environmental issues and... read more
I examined this book with two possible courses in mind: a non-majors environmental science course, and a 200 level ecology course for majors. For non-majors, it was nearly comprehensive (about a 4). It covered the primary environmental issues and provided a light primer on ecological concepts. However, many topics were arguably covered too briefly. For instance, the climate change section gave little sense of the relative impacts of different drivers of climate change (fossil fuels, land use change, etc.) and essentially no discussion of solutions beyond alternative energy sources (e.g., little or nothing about reforestation, carbon sequestration, etc.) Figures were somewhat lacking in parts of the text - for instance, the section on climate change discussed aerosols, albedo, sea level rise, disease spread, all without figures. For a majors course in ecology, it was inadequate. Many key ecological topics received only a cursory examination befitting of a high school textbook, at most, and broad theoretical ideas were minimal. Important concepts weren't covered in much depth at all: for example, a few thousand words is dedicated to community ecology, but more content here was focused on simplistic topics like prey being camouflaged to avoid predators than on the concept of competition and niches. There was very minimal quantitative content of any kind.
Little in the way of major inaccuracies, but some incompleteness (perhaps reflecting bias). For instance, as far as I could tell, organic agriculture was described essentially as environmentally superior in every regard, neglecting to discuss the lower yields (and hence higher land use) and reduced yield stability of organic agriculture.
Content seemed mostly up-to-date with room for further updates regarding dynamic topics (like climate change).
Generally was readable and written in a straightforward manner. I don't think the terminology would be too difficult for college students, although sometimes the explanations of terms may be separated from their first use. Some very important terms are unfortunately used with little explanation: the word "regulation" appears in the title and subheading when discussing population regulation, but the word is absent from the text, a notable omission given how many students struggle to understand the meaning of regulation in the context of population dynamics.
I noticed no inconsistencies and the format was relatively predictable, though "case studies" appeared in a somewhat surprising manner.
Overall it seemed to be about as modular as it could be, given the extent to which some topics need to be contextualized by other material.
I observed no organizational problems in general, though a straight read-through might lead someone to feel a bit confused by the pivots from general ecology to environmental issues.
The general interface seemed perfectly fine on my device. The text did not always appear to match up well with the figures/tables - some figures were not cited in the text, and one table had a noteworthy blank value in it that was unaddressed and would likely raise unanswerable questions.
No errors I noticed.
There was recognition of racial/socioeconomic/global disparities in environmental impacts, which would be a key way to address this matter within the context of this text, though certainly more could have been said. Though I did not notice it to be explicitly stated anywhere, the book has an America-centric quality, to the point of referring to "Our nation...", which I would suggest should be removed.
This book is a good resource for an introductory level class on Environmental Science, covering most of the topics usually addressed in a class at this level. Some topics are explained in more detail than others, but all the topics presented in... read more
This book is a good resource for an introductory level class on Environmental Science, covering most of the topics usually addressed in a class at this level. Some topics are explained in more detail than others, but all the topics presented in the book are well explained. Several of the chapters include case studies, which help students connect the topics to real-life examples. Because of my personal interests, I would include more case studies in other chapters as well. For example, there are many examples of Biodiversity loss and restoration projects that could be included in the Biodiversity chapter. There are some topics that are missing in the book and that I consider crucial as part of any introductory level Environmental Science class: waste management and plastic pollution. Usually, these topics include concepts like landfills, waste to energy power plants, recycling, reducing waste, composting, and Pacific Garbage Gire. Climate change was included in the air pollution chapter, but it needs to be addressed in more depth, maybe devoting a whole chapter to it and include a more detailed section on how to decrease emissions.
The content of the book is mostly accurate and free of bias. However, there are several instances where the content is inaccurate or outdated. For example, in the section about climate change, the main consequences of climate change are presented as a future issue: “These changes will impact our food supply, water resources, infrastructure, ecosystems, and even our own health”. It then presents future scenarios on sea-level rise, ice melting, increases temperature, ocean acidification, and increases in storm frequency. All the scenarios included are presented as future scenarios, which is inaccurate and misleading because we are currently undergoing many of the severe consequences of climate change. In the future, of course, these effects will only get worse if greenhouse gasses emissions are not cut, but it is not accurate to present an issue as a future issue when it is already happening. The IPCC supplementary reading in this section is from 2013, so it should be updated with more up to date and accurate information, and also better descriptions of current and future effects of climate change.
The content of the book is relevant, as it covers most of the environmental issues that our planet is currently facing. In terms of longevity, the examples used in the book are good representations of the topics, but some of the case studies could be updated to include some recent developments relevant to the case studies or even replace the case study with a more recent event. For example, an environmental disaster like the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico or the Flint Water Crisis could be great examples of environmental hazards, dangers of nonrenewable fuel extraction, the role of pollution in biodiversity decrease, and long term effects of toxic pollutants in the environment.
I find the book easy to follow and read, at a level that is accessible and understandable for undergrad students. Some terms are only mentioned in the text, but not defined, therefore a glossary would be helpful to increase the overall clarity of the content.
The book is consistent from beginning to end, presenting a similar writing style and format.
The organization of the chapters and the subunits is clear and consistent. Individual chapters or the subunits can be found easily on the chapter outline, and the order of the book content can be easily changed based on teaching preferences. For example, I first cover population and community ecology before moving to Biomes. This personalization in the topic’s order is facilitated by the fact that each chapter and subunit in the book can be linked independently, so one could easily just copy and paste the link to the school LMS or class website.
The topics in the book are presented in a logical order, but as stated above, the order of the chapters can be easily changed depending on how instructors teach their classes. The structure of the chapters and subunits is consistent throughout the book. Additional characteristics included in all chapters are learning outcomes, a chapter outline, a summary, and review questions. All of these characteristics are very useful to students, as they help them to understand what is expected of them in each chapter and they can use the review questions for self-evaluation.
The textbook is easy to navigate in its online version. I was very happy to see some videos included in the textbook, as well as links to other supplementary materials. Students really enjoy visual content and it is great if they can find it in the class textbook. Some videos on my computer looked like plain photos, so students might miss them. Maybe a caption can be added below the videos, including the video name (with hyperlink), author, and attribution, just to make clear it is a video. Some videos in the book have captions and some don’t. For example the video at the end of subunit “1.1. The Earth, humans and the environment” does not have a caption, but the video at the end of subunit “2.1 Matter” has a caption. There are some QR codes in the text that are useful if you have the printed version of the book, but they are not as convenient if you are accessing the textbook from a computer, or even from a phone. Maybe a link to the content can be added to the QR caption. I accessed the textbook using two different OER repositories to test the book’s navigation, it was smooth in both platforms. However, there were some figures missing in one of the OER repositories (i.e. Figure 1 in section 10.4. Climate Change), but this is probably a problem derived from the harvesting process of the materials by that specific repository. The pdf version of the book looks nice, the only things I found distracting were that it had several blank pages, and the questions at the end of the chapters had different font styles and sizes. Some of the figures in all of the 3 formats I accessed seem to be of low resolution, which renders them difficult to read if they are graphs or have some type of labeling. This is especially concerning in terms of accessibility. This is not unique to this textbook, as I have seen this in other OER textbooks as well.
The text contains no significant amount of grammatical errors.
I did not find the book to be culturally insensitive or offensive. It includes examples from a wide variety of places and ecosystems.
This book does a great job of covering and explaining most of the major environmental concepts and issues that are typically included in an introductory-level Environmental Science class. It includes videos and other supplementary materials, it is easy to read, each chapter includes learning outcomes, a chapter outline, a summary, and review questions. It could use some minor updates, but overall it is a great resource.
The text covers most areas and ideas of the subject appropriately, although in less detail than commercial textbooks. I reviewed this for a course on Environmental Science, where I would want more content on topics like energy resources and... read more
The text covers most areas and ideas of the subject appropriately, although in less detail than commercial textbooks. I reviewed this for a course on Environmental Science, where I would want more content on topics like energy resources and environmental regulations, but that is not a criticism of a textbook titled Environmental Biology.
Unfortunately, there is no index or glossary. There are hyperlinks to many other resources like websites and video clips; these enhance the comprehensiveness and usefulness of the text.
Learning objectives and an outline at the beginning of each chapter will help students to “pre-read” the text. Likewise, chapter summaries and comprehensive citations at the end of each chapter will help students to retain the main points and to seek further information on topics of interest.
I believe that climate change deserves its own chapter, not a subsection in a chapter on Air Pollution.
Content is accurate and reasonably unbiased, although a few points “upon which reasonable people may differ” are presented as facts without supporting evidence.
The content is up to date. Some charts and graphs will need to be updated over the next five years. The text is written and/or arranged in such a way that necessary updates will be relatively easy and straightforward to implement.
The text is written in accessible prose suitable for the undergraduate reader.
The text is internally consistent in terms of terminology and framework, although some non-standard acronyms are used: e.g, CFOs instead of the more common CAFOs, for Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations.
The sequence of chapters/topics allows later chapters to build on earlier, more foundational material.. The organization of subunits is clear and well signposted.
The topics in the text are presented in a logical, clear fashion. The text is enhanced by bolded key terms. Each chapter contains multiple-choice test question banks, with answers provided in the appendix.
The textbook is attractively laid out in a single-column format suitable for on-screen reading. One table has its right-side cut off in the PDF version, and there are occasional font size and spacing inconsistencies, but these are not major distractors in reading the text.
The text contains only a handful of typographical errors.
Examples and case studies are drawn from a wide variety of geographical locations and biomes. There is no offensive or culturally insensitive language.
I was impressed by the comprehensiveness of this textbook – which covers topics ranging from the structure of prokaryotic cells to environmental justice and Superfund sites. There were a few places that I found the textbook to be lacking (possibly... read more
I was impressed by the comprehensiveness of this textbook – which covers topics ranging from the structure of prokaryotic cells to environmental justice and Superfund sites. There were a few places that I found the textbook to be lacking (possibly because of my personal interests!)
1) Though marine and freshwater systems were discussed, the level of detail and examples provided throughout the book lean towards terrestrial systems. I think this does a bit of injustice to the ecosystems that cover most of our planet! For example, in the section on "biomes", eight major terrestrial biomes are detailed. However, for marine systems, only three "biomes" are discussed: the ocean, coral reefs, and estuaries. The ocean is such a large and diverse system and warrants more discussion (upwelling systems! hydrothermal vents! krill-dominated Antarctic food webs!). Or, in the least, the fact that this diversity exists can be stressed a bit more and the reader could be pointed to something like https://www.nationalgeographic.org/activity/mapping-marine-ecosystems/.
2) Interpreting data is so central to environmental biology, so helping students develop comfort with data, equations, and graphs is an important component to a course on the topic. There are a few equations in the text (e.g. the mark-recapture equation), but it would be great if more of this could be added (e.g. the equation for logistic population growth or for calculating diversity indices) in addition to providing more figures that require interpreting data (e.g. the Keeling curve when discussing CO2 in the atmosphere).
3) I was happy to see a section on water pollution and to see eutrophication brought up several times throughout the text, but I was surprised not to see much discussion of the many other types of (increasingly worrisome) anthropogenic pollutants – e.g. plastics and microplastics, sound pollution.
4) It might be worthwhile to add a bit more on international agreements as they relate to the environmental sciences. For example, things like CITES and the Paris Agreement are mentioned, but the Sustainable Development Goals would link up well with a lot of the concepts covered (food security, land/ocean preserves, etc.)
I did not note many inaccuracies but there were a few places that I wasn't sure were inaccurate or just simplifications/lack of detail. For example, the author seemed to be describing trophic cascades on coral reefs in the section on this biome, but it wasn't clear if this description was correct (fishing leading to an increase in predation on corals) – I think of this trophic cascade as impacting coral because parrotfish (which usually eat algae off the coral, reducing competition for light) populations have declined through trophic cascades. I did note an error in Review Question 1 of Chapter 2 (the answer should say something like "the heavier carbon isotope"; even 12C is an isotope). Two other small things: 1) my understanding is that phytoplankton produce more like 50-70% of the oxygen on earth (not 40%), 2) when discussing mutations and evolution, it would be good to make clear that most mutations are not beneficial.
I was surprised by the lack of references in the text. Much of the information likely does not require a reference, but some statements should be backed up by a reference. For example, "A 1986 study estimated that 40% of the product of terrestrial plant photosynthesis — the basis of the food chain for most animal and bird life — was being appropriated by humans for their use. More recent studies estimate that 25% of photosynthesis on continental shelves (coastal areas) is ultimately being used to satisfy human demand." could definitely use references since the author is referring to specific studies. My main concern here is showing by example since it is sometimes a struggle to get students to properly acknowledge their sources.
Most of the information seemed timely enough (and certainly kept more up to date than non-open textbooks) and easy to update. The one thing I was surprised about was the author's language when discussing climate change. There was a lot of "may" and a lot of future tense. The scientific evidence overwhelmingly shows that many of the impacts the author discusses *will* occur and that, in fact, they are already occurring. For example, in Section 5.4, the author talks about climate change driven extinction and states that it "has not yet had a large impact" and later in this chapter states that "climate change will alter regional climates" but we are already seeing these impacts. Maybe add an image of temperature anomalies here to make this clear?
For the most part, the text is clear and easy to read. There were some sections, however, that had long sentences that were a bit difficult to get through (especially if not the terms are known to the reader). For example, the very first section starts with a long statement that includes terms like "carrying capacity", though these terms may not yet be known to the student. In some sections, adding tables or additional figures could be helpful to students if possible. For example, a simple table showing the life history characteristics of r vs. K-strategists might be an extremely useful guide for students not familiar with this categorization. There are also a few sections that should be dropped or have more detail added for clarity. For example, at the end of the section on biomes the author briefly lists several types of wetlands (bogs, marshes, swamps, mudflats, salt marshes) but provides no further information on how these are differentiated. In the section on the carbon cycle, the author very briefly mentions subduction, which feels abrupt and out of place without more detailed discussion of plate tectonics. The information covered by the book is impressive, and I know not everything can be covered in detail, but it might be better to remove statements like this rather than give a surface-level description.
The textbook was very consistent overall (structure of each chapter, types of figures used – e.g. similar figures used for all biogeochemical cycles). There is some inconsistency in the level of detail across topics, but that is true of any textbook. I do think there could be more balance in the focus on terrestrial vs. marine systems (as outlined above). I did not always feel that the chapter summaries really captured the focus of the chapter (e.g. there might be a couple of sentences on something very briefly covered, and only one sentence on something discussed in detail in the chapter), but appreciate that the author took the time to create this extra resource for students.
The textbook is sufficiently modular so that educators might assign sections in a different order or only assign certain chapters to their class. For example, I would personally move up the sections on ecology (population growth, community interactions) then introduce the various biomes to showcase these concepts. I do, however, think that the sections on evolution should be moved up in the text/should be the first ecological concepts covered.
Though it does mean that there is some repetition, concepts are in large part explained with enough detail each time they are brought up, so that it isn't necessary that the student has read the preceding chapter. For example, eutrophication is brought up several times in the text and briefly defined each time.
The chapters were very well organized, with well-thought-out subsections and helpful additional features (learning outcomes, additional readings, summary, review questions). Though it would be helpful to have a glossary or appendix, readers can easily search for terms using a PDF version of the book. It might be useful to add some overarching themes to the text to provide a broader structural framework for students. For example, feedback loops have relevance to many topics in environmental biology (e.g. global warming, ice melt, and albedo) and seeing this concept in different contexts is a nice way to tie the field together. One smaller comment is that it would be easier to point students to figures if they were named based on the chapter (e.g. Figure 2.1 rather than every chapter having a Figure 1).
I tried both PDF versions and the online version and had no problems with the interface. It is useful to have the chapter subsections linked so that you can get to them quickly by clicking on them in the table of contents. In general, my students seem to like that you can easily leave yourself comments and jump back to that section with PDF versions of textbooks. As mentioned below, the only thing I would change is swapping out the QR codes for links (though this might cause difficulty if students choose to get the book printed).
There were a few places that could use a bit of wordsmithing (e.g. under "The Nature of Science" there are three sentences in a row that end "about the world" or "about the natural world") but overall I found the book very readable and well-written. There are a few small typos (e.g. two periods at the end of a sentence in the section "Types of Biodiversity") but I didn't notice many or feel they interfered with my reading of the book.
I did not find the book to be culturally insensitive. I appreciated that the book not only included but started off with a discussion of topics like environmental ethics and environmental justice.
I like the use of figures and videos throughout the text, and even more of these might be useful. Students seem to especially enjoy the youtube links in open textbooks. Another option might be to include links to podcasts, TED talks, interactive websites/visualizations, etc. to aid student understanding. There were a couple of places where relevance of the linked media was not immediately apparent to me – for example, Figure 1 in Chapter 2 which covers "the history and future of everything". I also found using QR codes cumbersome and expect my students would just skip these resources.
Overall, this book provides a comprehensive introduction to environmental science appropriate for an undergraduate class. Some sections were incredibly comprehensive, including those on biodiversity, photosynthesis and its importance, estimating... read more
Overall, this book provides a comprehensive introduction to environmental science appropriate for an undergraduate class. Some sections were incredibly comprehensive, including those on biodiversity, photosynthesis and its importance, estimating population size (making it easy to design an associated lab using these methods), and an excellent description of major biomes that read well instead of like a data table in sentence form. Some of these sections approached the content level I’d expect of Campbell’s Biology, rather than an interdisciplinary book. For instance, the evolution chapter contained a lengthy section on the history of evolutionary thought.
There were some minor things I was surprised to find omitted. For instance, the precautionary principle is introduced early on, but the opposite principle, innocent-until-proven-guilty, is never mentioned, despite this being the more common approach used by Western governments. An introduction to the electromagnetic spectrum in early chapters would also have primed students for later discussion of infrared radiation and the different effects of ultraviolet lights. Despite a discussion of the debate around using nuclear energy, there were no details on nuclear energy or the process. Diagrams of nuclear plants and an in-depth discussion of plant operation and safety would have been helpful.
Quite surprisingly, there was almost no mention of plastic pollution or municipal solid waste (MSW). MSW was only mentioned in passing as a potential renewable energy source, with no time dedicated to landfills, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, or mitigating solid waste pollution. No text was dedicated to discussing recycling plants or processes, the three R’s, or the difficulties of exporting waste to be recycled. I do believe this is a significant oversight that will hopefully be corrected in later versions.
This book impressed me immediately with two sections in the first chapter that are oft neglected or put at the very end as an afterthought in many other environmental science books: “Environmental Ethics” and “Environmental Justice & Indigenous Struggles”. This was a refreshing change of pace to the typical introductory chapters of Environmental Science books.
The first chapter also contains an extremely important section on the process of doing peer-reviewed science (page 13). This topic is often neglected in undergraduate courses across the sciences but is so essential (in my opinion) to helping students understand how science is done and why science literacy is so important. The text also contains great sections on zoos and their conservation successes and failures, an introduction to the concept of wilderness preserves reinforcing cultural perceptions of humans being separate from nature, and a great thorough discussion on GMOs and selective breeding. Finally, the section on modern agriculture and its effects is the most thorough I’ve seen in this type of textbook.
Many sections contained actionable items for students and readers to do or be aware of to mitigate the issue being discussed, including a weighing of the different types of wood that I haven’t seen in any other textbook.
All content was accurate to the best of my knowledge, though sentences were sometimes poorly worded (e.g., ‘Limiting nutrient’ appears to be defined as ‘necessary for growth’ which is misleading; page 79) or conflicted slightly with the associated figure (the discussion of taxonomy says that the “most specific [category] is species” and then the figure shows subspecies). Other things feel awkwardly omitted which makes me think maybe there is a reason I’m unaware of for excluding them, such as the two types of mimicry being discussed in detail in Section 4.4, without naming them as Batesian and Mullerian. The discussion of the differing capacity of regions of the world to switch to renewable geothermal or solar energy could have benefited from maps showing these trends (which I have seen elsewhere).
The last major update to this book occurred in November 2019 and included updates to sections with current information. The book includes a reference to the Flint Water Crisis in Chapter 1, and to President Trump, for example. Given the recent drastic changes in federal regulations, I expect more updates will be added to discussions of the Paris Agreement, governmentally-regulated acceptable levels of toxins, and the EPA.
Many graphs with projections end in the 2000’s and are due for updates.
There are some sections that don’t seem relevant for an environmental science book. A detailed introduction of prokaryotic vs. eukaryotic cells doesn’t seem necessary for a solid understanding of environmental science and is never touched on again after its introduction.
There are some definitions and acronyms that could use more explanation for an undergraduate class. For example, the first chapter refers to ‘per capita’ consumption without defining ‘per capita.’ CFCs and PCBs are also alluded to without definition in the first chapter. Taken literally, the clarity is poor on some graphs that appear to be low-resolution and are difficult to read.
The content in this textbook is very consistent. There are, however, lots of inconsistencies in formatting. For instance, in some cases figures span pages awkwardly and tables extend off the page, there are changes in text size for no reason, and sometimes words are bolded as vocabulary words while other times they are bolded for emphasis.
Like with most textbooks, key vocabulary words are bolded. Some of these are repeatedly defined which enhances the modularity of sections and chapters (e.g. biome in Section 3.1 and 3.3). Many of the early chapters contain supplementary resources and links but these dwindle as the book goes on, so if students are only introduced to later chapters, or chapters out of order, they will not know to reference those.
Each chapter contains a set of objectives at the beginning, a summary section at the end, and a set of review questions with answers in the appendices. Some chapters contain subsections, denoted by small caps, or labeled as boxes. The text is written in a very readable voice and sections are no longer than they need to be.
This book takes the approach of starting very specifically within environmental science, discussing the process of science and the importance of environmental studies and environmental justice, before diving into building the foundation of knowledge (e.g., atoms, energy, chemistry in Chapter 2). I think this works well, but have not tried this approach, to this breadth, in the classroom. There are a few major topics that I believe should be introduced much sooner than they are: evolution and climate change.
Evolution doesn’t get introduced until Chapter 5 despite it being fundamental for understanding chapters like Chapter 4: Community and Population Ecology (as even noted in the famous Dobzhansky quote). A brief discussion of evolution, selection, and adaptation should probably be a subsection of Chapter 2.
Similarly, Chapter 5 refers a lot to consequences of climate change but climate change itself isn’t defined or explained until the second-to-last chapter of the book. Given the consequences of climate change, it wouldn’t be difficult or far-fetched to frame most of the sections in the context of climate change, if it’s introduced first.
The subsections, denoted by small caps such as “Evolution in Action,” “Biology in Action”, and “Evolution Connection” aren’t well differentiated and appear somewhat arbitrary. They pop up in the middle of marginally related topics. This is especially confusing in early chapters before evolution is discussed at all.
The text pages are short but dense, without the spaces, columns, and colorful figures that typically space out text in a print textbook. I prefer it this way but students may disagree.
Figures numbers restart in each subsection which can make them tricky to refer to in class or in class worksheets. Figures also aren’t always referenced in the text, are sometimes referenced incorrectly (e.g. Figure 2 is cited when Figure 3 should be, as on page 245), and are formatted inconsistently (not really a significant issue but still worth noting). Pages also don’t have a header or a footer stating the chapter or section, which made quickly referencing previous sections of the pdf a hassle.
There is strange formatting in the review questions at the ends of chapters, in figures, between sections, and in text sizes. These are not major issues at all and don’t interfere with readability.
In the pdf version, internal links do not work, except in Table of Contents, (but links going externally do). Some external links are behind paywalls (all National Geographic links) or are broken (Flint water crisis in Section 1.5, ‘multiple countries’ in Section 6.2)
There are some figures that are links to MinuteEarth videos. These are very cool but are easy to miss so make sure you check them out! A major flaw, to me, is that many figures especially in the second half of the book, are QR codes. These codes are not clickable and so if students are reading on desktops or laptops, it will be cumbersome to get out their cell phones just to access the external links. Additionally, students without smartphones, or with older models, may be unable to access this content without clickable links.
There are occasional typos and grammatical errors. There are some incomplete sentences (e.g. beginning of page 51, end of page 112), some omitted words (first sentence of page 84) or omitted spaces (top of page 94). These aren’t common enough to be distracting but are more prevalent than I’d expect in an edited print textbook.
See the comment above about the Environmental Ethics and Environmental Justice & Indigenous Struggles sections. This book is definitely geared towards a North American audience, though it does contain Case Studies and standard examples from around the world. The first chapter contains a cursory description of environmental racism, with a somewhat dismissive approach to the topic, and a brief introduction to environmental justice that is not expanded upon in further chapters.
This book also has an associated Google Drive folder of lecture slides. The slides are View Only but contain lots of great exercises (Think-Pair-Share, etc.) and links to external sources that make them a valuable resource.
Updates to the book are also listed in the front, making continued use of this textbook simple from semester to semester.
Note: I reviewed the downloaded pdf version of this OER so any page numbers or formatting issues mentioned below may not be accurate across platforms.
This text covers a very broad topic and is, for the most part, comprehensive in its treatment of the topics. There are a few areas where some increased explanation would be helpful for clarity. For example, in the discussion of eutrophication... read more
This text covers a very broad topic and is, for the most part, comprehensive in its treatment of the topics. There are a few areas where some increased explanation would be helpful for clarity. For example, in the discussion of eutrophication the author does not adequately explain the role of aerobic decomposers in oxygen depletion leading to hypoxia/anoxia and subsequent fish kills. In Chapter 5 – Conservation and Biodiversity, the section on Conservation of Biodiversity is under-developed. There is no mention of aquatic biodiversity, its importance, or methods for conservation. There is no glossary or index included with the text.
The content is accurate and there is no obvious bias. The authors go to great measures to speak from an objective perspective. If anything, the perspective is a bit too sterile and dispassionate, rendering the text a bit boring.
The broader principles and content information are timeless. Some of the case studies are a bit out of date. For example, case study 7.5 The Aral Sea does not mention any of the multinational remediation efforts that are underway to remediate this aquatic ecosystem.
The text is composed in a clear fashion. Terminology is defined or explained as it is introduced. Some figure legends could be expanded a little to improve the ability of the figure to stand alone without reference from within the text.
Some chapter sections are much more developed (6.3 Environmental Toxicology) than others (6.4 Bioremediation). There is somewhat uneven coverage of topics. The role of the intertidal sea star as a keystone species could be given increased coverage, especially given changes in the Pacific northwest oceanic community that is occurring now. The text refers to soils being depleted and interactions in the ecosystem being lost, but does not explain what interactions maintain the ecosystem or whether they can be restored.
The chapters could be easily redacted as to sequence, or could be selected to form shorter subject coverage. The units are easily sub-divisible into smaller sections.
The topics are in a logical progression, but also could be easily reorganized into a different progression depending upon what one wished to emphasize in the course or how one wished to organize and sequence the material.
When printed, there were changes in font sizes from paragraph to paragraph within sections. Also the review questions print out in different font sizes within a single chapter.
Few errors were noted. Most are minor such as the following sentence from Section 4.3. “Clean drinking water and proper disposal sewage has drastically improved health in developed nations.” The sentence should probably read “Clean drinking water and proper disposal of sewage has drastically improved health in developed nations.” An alternative version could be “Clean drinking water and properly disposed sewage has drastically improved health in developed nations.”
The text addresses multiple perspectives and addresses cultural differences in an objective and respectful manner.
The text goes into Matter, Energy, and Cell Structure in some detail, yet does not cover essential details of photosynthesis and respiration either in the context of energy cycling or in the carbon cycle. A course in environmental science is not likely to be a student's fist science course. Therefore Chapter 2 is likely to have been covered in greater detail in some previous course. I think this chapter could be eliminated. The section on protecting biodiversity is wholly inadequate with a mere four pages covering conservation practices. The importance of nature (and especially plants) to human psychology and physiology (biophilia and phytoncides) should be mentioned given the large body of published evidence on this topic. The text regularly makes bold statements, then leaves the topic without elaboration. For example, toward the end of section 5.3, it is stated: "The world's growing human population faces significant challenges in the increasing costs and other difficulties associated with producing food." This begs the question of how do we address these challenges? We need to leave our students with some sense of hope. Overall, this is a laudable work, but I would like to see some tweaking of the level of coverage of various topics.
The book covers most topics found in other environmental science books, with enough background material (ecology topics covered in general biology courses) for understanding of basic ecological principles. Some topics I did not notice: soil... read more
The book covers most topics found in other environmental science books, with enough background material (ecology topics covered in general biology courses) for understanding of basic ecological principles. Some topics I did not notice: soil erosion, habitat fragmentation, and desertification in the context of habitat loss, solid waste issues (including recycling uses and limitations, microplastics in the environment, plastic waste in general, landfills, garbage burners, and exporting solid waste), effects of the loss of genetic diversity on endangered wildlife, and newer innovations in renewable energy (such as tidal energy and solar glass).
I’m pleased to see the term “scientific inquiry” used to describe the processes of science. However, the book still speaks of “THE scientific method,” as though there is a single set of steps for “doing science.” The authors may want to look into literature on scientific inquiry in education for more up-to-date and comprehensive descriptors of the processes of science.
Two issues I have with the presentation of photosynthesis: 1) I prefer a plant-centered view, in which fixing energy in the form of carbon compounds is THE reason autotrophs carry out photosynthesis. The presentation suggests that oxygen generation – only a waste product of photosynthesis – is the important goal. 2) It would be easy to draw a common misconception out of some of the language here: that photosynthesis MAKES energy. In fact, photosynthesis USES energy to manufacture energy-rich carbon compounds.
Discussion of biomes is standard in life science textbooks, but I think it’s imperative that students understand that “biome” is an abstract concept. I stand in the middle of the southernmost end of what the map describes as Boreal Forest, and I see a region that was dominated by oak savannah and patches of coniferous forest and maple woodland before it was broken up into farms, all framed by conifer-enrobed mountains. “Biome” is a broad-brush description of a general climate pattern. A finer-grained look will reveal a patchwork of ecotypes, right down to the microbiomes on different sides of the same hill.
The discussion of GMO crops does, as it should, distinguish between traditional methods (selective breeding, hybridization) and insertion of new genes via laboratory methods. However, the illustration in the chapter does not. It implies that “traditional” methods of cross-breeding cause strands of DNA to hybridize into entirely new chromosomes. While crossing-over does occur during meiosis, the figure does not accurately describe that.
The section on sustainable agriculture needs fleshing out. The methods employed by Joel Salatin at Polyface Farms are highly sustainable and yet don’t fit the brief descriptions outlined here. Consider Community-Supported Agriculture, old-fashioned “truck farms” serving farmer’s markets, the loss of farmland to suburbs and the rise of the “food, not lawns” movement and urban agriculture to address the problem, and much more.
Climate change really deserves its own chapter and an in-depth discussion that includes how scientists know that humans are contributing to climate change. Ocean acidification is included in one small section, and could be expanded.
The chapter on energy includes a discussion of renewable energy that touches on the most common forms of renewable (and more or less sustainable) energy: solar, wind, geothermal, hydropower, biomass, ethanol, and biodiesel. The authors might also look at tidal energy generators, the prospects of hydrogen fuel (it takes electricity to make hydrogen fuel, so why not use electricity directly? In what cases would it make more sense to make hydrogen fuel?), and interesting community approaches such as gyms that hook the exercise machines to the electrical system to run the lights, the turbines Portland, OR has installed in the storm sewer system, and the capability of homeowners to produce their own electricity via solar roofs, solar panels, small wind turbines, and so on. And what about solar roadways?
The discussions of sustainability, environmental ethics, and environmental justice are both comprehensive and concise. Highly relevant to today’s environmental science students because it includes multiple stakeholders. The discussion of equity is brief, but I’m glad to see it included.
Obviously material on environmental problems, sustainable energy, sustainable agriculture, and human-devised solutions will have to be updated frequently. The book appears fairly current, while including historical examples.
Writing is clear and accessible to lower-division college and upper high school readers. Layout includes sufficient white space and few long, intimidating paragraphs. Diagrams are chosen to enhance understanding. Typeface size is adjustable.
Chapters are organized in a consistent manner. Writing style and formatting is consistent throughout.
Chapters are organized in a “bottom-up” fashion typical of life science textbooks, from atoms and molecules to the entire biosphere, ending with human effects. I think an instructor could arrange a course as they wished without having to present the chapters in order. For example, the chapters on matter and energy could be referred to while presenting material on energy flow and material cycling. Understanding matter and energy are necessary to understanding ecological concepts, but the arrangement allows for presenting the material on a “need to know” basis.
Chapters are divided into short sections and paragraphs, which makes reading fairly easy.
Pull-down menu access to each chapter is simple to navigate.
Throughout the book there are links to websites with further information and activities to enhance student learning. So long as these are kept up to date and replaced now and then with more recent resources and modules, I think this can be a useful addendum to an online textbook.
Adjustable typeface size helps with accessibility. Most figure captions are descriptive to assist students with vision issues.
No grammatical errors found.
The book has a fair discussion of environmental justice and equity at the beginning, putting in in line with modern takes on environmental science and sustainability. The theme is picked up again in the chapter on environment and human health.
The first part of the book contains short, comprehensive discussions of material found in most standard introductory life science textbooks, while the second half details environmental issues largely from a human perspective. I would like to see a presentation of the field methods of environmental science – HOW populations are studied, for example, in the population chapter. Further, each chapter resources section could include actionable items, that is, suggestions for activities students can do at home or in the classroom to demonstrate chapter concepts. Students should be able to step outside, observe the environment around them, and draw conclusions based on their observations. Some chapters, such as the chapter on environment and human health, include a case study – case studies could be included in each chapter as a demonstration of scientific inquiry applied to environmental problems, and including cultural and social issues. But also consider inclusion of some less human-centered material, considering the rest of the biosphere less as something we use and that impacts us and more as a web of living things that are also trying to survive on this planet.
Table of Contents
- Chapter 1: Environmental Science
- Chapter 2: Matter, Energy, & Life
- Chapter 3: Ecosystems and the Biosphere
- Chapter 4: Community & Population Ecology
- Chapter 5: Conservation & Biodiversity
- Chapter 6: Environmental Hazards & Human Health
- Chapter 7: Water Availability and Use
- Chapter 8: Food & Hunger
- Chapter 9: Conventional & Sustainable Agriculture
- Chapter 10: Air Pollution, Climate Change, & Ozone Depletion
- Chapter 11: Conventional & Sustainable Energy
About the Book
This open textbook covers the most salient environmental issues, from a biological perspective. The text is designed for an introductory-level college science course. Topics include the fundamentals of ecology, biodiversity, pollution, climate change, food production, and human population growth.
About the Contributors
Matthew R. Fisher