This substantial tome by the noted palynologist Alfred Traverse
of Pennsylvania State University is intended as a teaching
text for laboratory-based courses in paleopalynology at the
University level. It consists of a broad general survey of
this highly diverse field, arranged into 18 chapters, followed
by an appendix and glossary.
The first five chapters present an overview of the field.
Some major topics discussed include definitions, a short
history of the discipline, a discussion of the different
types of palynomorphs, a survey of plant life-cycles
emphasising the role played by pollen and spores, and an
exposition of pollen and spore morphology. This comprises
the introductory or methodological section of the text. In
this and subsequent sections, I particularly like the
historical perspective on the development of the discipline,
complete with photographs and some biographical information
on some prominent practitioners.
The next eleven chapters consist of a survey of the field of
paleopalynology in geochronologic order, beginning with
acritarchs in the Precambrian in Chapter 6 and concluding
with "Holocene interglacial palynology" in Chapter 16. Each
chapter consists of a survey of the main palynomorphs of that
time period together with a consideration of major research
themes, supported by extensive references to the literature.
Throughout the book, the writing style is discursive and chatty.
Occasionally, passages read as through they have been transcribed
directly from lecture notes, for example, "I would now like to
summarize the salient features" (p. 43).
The chapters also contain illustrations, drawings, and photographs
of major and representative taxa discussed. These illustrations are
predominantly photomicrographs and SEM images. A few TEM images
are included, particularly in Chapter 5 on morphology and structure.
Because palynology is such a visual discipline, and pattern recognition
plays such a large role, the opportunity to compare illustrations of
major types is valuable. Unfortunately, I found some of the drawings
rather indistinct, although this may be simply a fault in the reproduction.
Owing to the attempt to illustrate as wide a range of types as possible,
many pages contain two dozen or more small photographic images. Thus,
although the general impression of diversity is conveyed, the pictures
are often too small to clearly distinguish details. In addition some
images are rather blurred. The captions for these illustrations often
spread over several pages and are in very fine print. Thus captions
may be divorced from their illustrations. Scale bars, too, may only
appear once which is frustrating when the illustration spans several
pages (e.g., Figure 5.7). This necessitates much page turning and
makes it difficult to study and compare the images. I also feel that
many of the figure captions are too long and contain discussion
material that would be better included in the main text (e.g.,
Figures 17.4, 17.6, and 17.7). My personal preference here for palynomorph
illustrations is for few images, say only six or eight, on a pages,
with some indication of scale and the captions directly beneath their
images. I suspect, however that this may be more difficult and expensive
from a production viewpoint.
The methodological emphasis is taken up again in the last two chapters
of the book. Chapter 17 on "Production, dispersal, and sedimentation of
spores/pollen" is especially noteworthy because it is an excellent
example of the integrative approach. The initial discussion concentrates
on pollen production, dispersal, and sedimentation, based on studies of
the modern flora and pollen rain. The applications and implications of
these data to the study of lithified sediments are then highlighted.
Additional topics, such as data management and post-depositional
alteration of palynomorphs (particularly "coalification"), are covered
in Chapter 18.
The main text is followed by a lengthy appendix dealing with processing
methods. The discussion concentrates on the preparation of material from
hard rock samples, but also includes methods for the preparation of modern
reference material. This is followed by a thirty-page glossary of terms.
Finally, references are compiled for the entire book, rather than for
This book is ambitious in its scope and covers a large amount of material,
and thus treatment given to any one topic is necessarily limited. For
example, the chapter on Holocene palynology, although touching on some
major points, does seem cursory and rather fragmentary. I suspect that
specialists in the other time intervals and topics covered in this text
might have similar observations. However, the aim of the text is to
give a general survey of the field and in this it appears to succeed well.
As an aside, Traverse has some terminological quibbles with the name
"Holocene", and would prefer that this interval was subsumed under the
Pleistocene. I consider that this term is so well entrenched in the
literature that he is on a losing wicket and may be inviting confusion
here. In this regard, I was amused to note that Traverse uses the term
"climatic optimum". This is a value-laden description (optimum for whom?
or what? and where?), that is becoming less frequently used and should be
avoided (one of my pet peeves!).
There is a major division in the discipline between Quaternary pollen
analysts and stratigraphic or paleopalynologists who tend to concentrate
on pre-Pleistocene materials. Our discipline is not alone in this; the
divisions between physical and human geography or in geology between
Quaternary and hard rock specialists spring readily to mind. Often the
two groups do not appear to talk to each other much. So the appearance
of this introductory text spanning the discipline is a welcome event.
Although my area of interest is primarily the Late Quaternary, I found
this text with its clear expositions, lucid writing style, and abundant
illustrations, informative and valuable. I suspect that it is destined
to become a standard on palynologists' bookshelves. At about $43
(Canadian) for the paperback version, I imagine that it will not be
too expensive for the student readership at which it is primarily aimed.