These two long-awaited volumes on the conifers excel all previous publications of their kind due in part to their sheer content of high quality illustrations. This work is the result of extraordinary determination by the authors who have traveled the temperate world in a quest to collate first-hand information on conifers in their native habitats and in cultivation. Some of their fieldwork, to study conifers in their natural habitats, has been accompanied by young dendrologists who have had the opportunity to share the authors' vast knowledge and witness their infectious enthusiasm.
This journey of exploration and research, which started almost 30 years ago, has amassed large amounts of documented materials in the form of thousands of photographs and herbarium specimens. This important permanent record has added considerably to our knowledge of the conifers in relation to their taxonomy, ecology, conservation, and cultivation.
These volumes, which are testament to this hard work by the authors and their many loyal followers, emphasizes the overwhelming diversity to be found in the conifers and brings to life the enormous beauty of these majestic trees. It is perhaps the conifers that have been and hopefully will continue to be in the future one of the most important useful groups of plants for mankind; nearly everywhere we turn a product that derives from a conifer can be seen. They have served man so admirably and yet like so much of biodiversity on the planet today, they have become overexploited and hence today 34% of the world's conifer species are threatened with extinction in the wild if current trends continue. It is highly likely that this figure will increase over the next few decades for there is little evidence that our ability to conserve biodiversity effectively in order to abate external detrimental pressures is succeeding.
The sad fact is that many of the habitats visited by the authors in order to gather data for this book will be fundamentally different if revisited today. Over the last 30 years the loss of conifer habitats has continued at a pace, so much so, that even relatively abundant species are now becoming a cause for concern. Returning to some of their conifer locations in North America, the authors will be saddened to see how introduced pathogens are decimating populations of Picea rubens and Tsuga caroliniana in the Appalachian Mountains. On the west coast of the United States the widely cultivated Chamaecyparis lawsoniana is also suffering a similar fate due to the fungal pathogen Phytophthora. A visitor to Chile would also discover that in the last decade thousands of hectares of Araucaria araucana forest have been destroyed by fire; all these areas are protected in national parks, with Reserva Nacional Malleco losing 71% of the forest that was destroyed.
As we continue to monitor conifers, this sort of loss can be found in most conifer-rich areas of the world. But we cannot give up trying to conserve areas of biodiversity and it is books such as this one that will help in their own small but important way to bring to the attention of the readership just how precious and vulnerable a resource the conifers around the world are.