By John Huisman, Western Australian Herbarium, Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions.
Marine Plants of Tasmania, by Fiona J. Scott.
Tasmanian Museum & Art Gallery, 2017.
I write this having just ticked over into my seventh decade, ripe for nostalgia, and poring over Fiona Scott’s lovely new colour guide to the seaweeds of Tasmania brought back fond memories of shared experiences from our ‘early’ days. Fiona and I spent our post-graduate years in the Botany School at the University of Melbourne, under the guidance of Gerry Kraft and Rick Wetherbee. In those days the student group was large and the economy of numbers meant we could mount field expeditions to far flung parts of Australia, including Lizard Island and Heron Island in the Great Barrier Reef, Lord Howe Island, and the infamous (in some minds) ‘bozodyssey’ to Western Australia. We also collected seaweeds locally, and during one of our regular trips to Portsea pier, in the southern end of Port Phillip Bay, a bemused local after hearing what we were up to offered an incredulous, “And you get paid to do this?” Well, not really.
Somehow we managed to keep it going. I moved to the west and other than a brief time in Hawaii have stayed put. Fiona’s travels were more far-reaching and included time in Queensland (see Price & Scott, 1992) and South Africa before settling in Tasmania. There, her phycological expertise has been instrumental in the production of major works such as the book Antarctic Marine Protists (Scott & Marchant, 2005) and the subsequent interactive key based on the book’s contents (https://taxonomic.aad.gov.au/index.html). I suspect, however, that Fiona’s main interest has always been the seaweeds, and now we welcome her new book on precisely that topic.
Marine Plants of Tasmania includes treatments of over 160 seaweed, seagrass and cyanobacterial species, each rather lavishly allocated a two-page spread that includes a description written in an accessible style, plus notes on distribution, a paragraph describing unique features of the species, and a list of publications that the reader can consult for additional descriptions and images. Introductory chapters give summaries of the phyla treated in the book, plus short essays focussing on the Tasmanian marine flora and how to identify the common species.
If you’re like me, however, it will be the photographs that are the main attraction of the book. Most species are represented by two or more images, the primary image generally an in-situ shot showing the species in its habitat, plus additional images showing details of thallus structures or reproductive features. These latter images do not consistently show the same feature and were selected to facilitate identification. Unusually for this style of book, within each phylum the species are presented alphabetically rather than taxonomically. This allows for easy access, but does mean that closely related genera can be many pages apart and not readily compared with one another.
This book succeeds on several counts. Its stated aim is to assist in species identification, which it does so by providing informative images and descriptions. Keys are not included; this is probably a wise decision as only about 25% of the Tasmanian marine plants are represented and providing keys to only a portion of the flora could be misleading. It is also hoped that ‘readers will discover the beauty and diversity of marine plants’, which Fiona discovered for herself many years ago and with this book will undoubtedly enlighten many others. The images are of a uniformly high quality and as well as facilitating species identification many highlight the unusual beauty of the seaweeds. My favourites include the green Caulerpa vesiculifera (p. 43) and the reds Hemineura frondosa (p. 265) and Perbella minuta (p. 291), but countless others are similarly stunning.
If I have any quibbles they are minor. To my eyes the colour balance on some plates errs slightly towards the vivid. This seems to be most pronounced in a few of the red algae, which can look unnaturally bright. The nomenclature is mostly up-to-date, the only oversight Gloiosacccion brownii Harvey, which is now known as Chrysymenia brownii (Harvey) De Toni. Caulerpa geminata Harvey (type locality: Rottnest Island) should probably be Caulerpa sedoides C.Agardh (type locality: Kent Islands, Bass Strait). Bryan Womersley regarded the two species as synonymous but in his 1984 book adopted C. geminata, despite the earlier C. sedoides having priority.
Marine Plants of Tasmania is a welcome addition to the Australian phycological literature and to the growing number of excellent colour field guides describing our unique seaweed flora. It is highly recommended to all with an interest in the marine environment.
Copies of the text are available directly from the Tasmanian Herbarium via Ms Kim Hill (Kim.Hill@tmag.tas.gov.au) for the RRP of AUD $50.00 plus postage, or online via the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery bookshop.
Price, I.R. & Scott, F.J. (1992). The turf algal flora of the Great Barrier Reef. Part I. Rhodophyta. Townsville, Australia: Botany Department, James Cook University.
Scott, F.J. & Marchant, H.M. (eds) (2005), Antarctic Marine Protists. Canberra: ABRS & AAD.