The recently announced Reef Fishes of the East Indies fish identification books have started shipping and I received my set last Friday. The books are absolutely gorgeous and can also be used for weight training . I did not weight them but estimate it compares to lugging around at least 6 copies of the Tropical Pacific Reef Fish Identification book, which is not a light book itself.
What sets these books apart is the fact that they cover all known reef-associated fish in a very large region that stretches from the Andaman/Nicobar islands on the West, Solomon islands on the East, tropical Australia on the South and Philippines on the North. This is not only the global hot-spot for fish diversity but also includes many of the prime pacific dive destinations. Even many species from the Red Sea/Africa to French Polynesia/Hawaii region are represented when their range overlaps the East Indies.
The books are meant to be the authorative guide to fish identification. Unlike my other fish ID books, this set is aimed at both scientists and "amateur underwater naturalists" and, as the authors are both leading scientists in this field, the books have a distinct scientific slant in content and vocabulary. For instance, for each species they list the number of fin spines and rays, scale counts and several measurements that can be used for identification purposes. This is more detail than most of us will ever need but it is easy to skip this part of the text and get to the description that complements the image and information on habitat, depth and distribution. When there are two very similar-looking species this is often highlighted with an indication of the discriminating feature(s), or in case of mimicry, they list which species is mimicked. In short, all the information you want is there and it is easy to skip the extra detail if you don't need it. Of course, the real attraction are the thousands of great colour images, often with more than one per species. The great majority are shot during normal diving but for some cryptic species they catch them with an anaestetic and then take pictures underwater, with them still showing their natural colours. A much smaller number of species is so rare that they are only known from a few, sometimes only one, stored museum specimen. Pictures, or sometimes drawings, of these are included but as a result of the preservatives their colours and sometimes shape has become unnatural and plain ugly. Of course, you are unlikely to ever come across one of these so again, it is extra information important to the scientist audience but easy to skip for us.
You will also find that the order of presentation is different from the common grouping by morphological similarity. Instead the order reflects the evolutionary tree, presenting the more "ancestral" species (sharks/rays) first and ending with the most "derived" species (Mola mola). In general, evolutionarily more closely related species tend to be also morphologically similar so I had no issues with it and a quick reference at the start of each book lets you find every family in any of the three volumes. One thing that I would have liked to see changed is to list species within a genus by morphological similarity rather than alphabetically. Alphabetic order has no biological information so this change should benefit both the scientists and us by listing species that are difficult to discriminated side by side.
In addition to the thousands of species, each family has its own description with many interesting things for divers at the start as well as citations to key scientific publications for each family at the end. Again, read the juicy bits and skip the rest unless you want to dig deeper. The first volume also has an introduction covering the different regions of the East Indies. This is interesting as it discusses the places with the healthiest reefs for each region, observed/estimated fish diversity, and the types/quality of reef communities, current, geography, etc. If you need inspiration for you next dive exploration than this will certainly give you more ideas than you can handle. There is also historical information on past and current ichtyologists that have been active in each region and the location of large museum collections that they have created. A relatively short section deals with zoogeography (reasons for observed geographic distributions of fish), ecology and conservation, with citations to other literature for more details.
Finally, the third volume gives you an idea of how up-to-date these books are since it ends with two appendices. The first covering almost 100 pages dedicated to new species with rather extensive descriptions and images. If you thought you had seen it all, these are some new ones to track down. After that there is a second appendix with some late additions including some that are so new that they didn't get discovered until after the book layout had been completed!
If you have gotten this far then you must be an afishionado in which case just go and order the books (http://www.uhpress.h...0987260000.aspx). They cost $249 for the boxed hard-cover set, which is not peanuts but in my opinion cheap given the quality and "labour of love" that clearly went into making them. If you run a dive shop in this region you should definately get them. As I said, these are not books divers want to lug around, even if luggage limits were more generous, but having access to them on site would be greatly appreciated.
Finally, a big thank you to the authors, Gerald Allen and Mark Erdmann, for this amazing set of books.
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