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The Theory of Island Biogeography (Princeton Landmarks in Biology)

The Theory of Island Biogeography



  • Robert H. MacArthur
  • Edward O. Wilson 


  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (April 1, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691088365
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691088365
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.4 x 0.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces


Book Description

Biogeography was stuck in a "natural history phase" dominated by the collection of data, the young Princeton biologists Robert H. MacArthur and Edward O. Wilson argued in 1967. In this book, the authors developed a general theory to explain the facts of island biogeography. The theory builds on the first principles of population ecology and genetics to explain how distance and area combine to regulate the balance between immigration and extinction in island populations. The authors then test the theory against data. The Theory of Island Biogeography was never intended as the last word on the subject. Instead, MacArthur and Wilson sought to stimulate new forms of theoretical and empirical studies, which will lead in turn to a stronger general theory. Even a third of a century since its publication, the book continues to serve that purpose well. From popular books like David Quammen’s Song of the Dodo to arguments in the professional literature, The Theory of Island Biogeography remains at the center of discussions about the geographic distribution of species. In a new preface, Edward O. Wilson reviews the origins and consequences of this classic book.

From the Back Cover

"MacArthur and Wilson’s is arguably the most influential book in biogeography in the last hundred years. With its emphasis on on-going processes of colonization and extinction, it provided a new framework to explain patterns in species diversity and served as a counterpoint to hypotheses relying on chance and solitary historical events. Many of the antecedents for what we now call conservation biology, invasion biology, and landscape ecology had their origins here."–Ted Case, University of California, San Diego

About the Author

Robert H. MacArthur was Professor of Biology at Princeton University until his death in 1972. Edward O. Wilson is University Research Professor and Honorary Curator in Entomology at Harvard University. He is the author of many books, including Biodiversity, Biophilia, The Diversity of Life, and Naturalist.  



Reprint of MacArthur’s and Wilson’s Seminal Ecological Tome, April 20, 2002

Originally published as part of the Princeton University Press’ Monographs in Population Biology series, Robert MacArthur’s and Edward O. Wilson’s "Theory Of Island Biogeography" is regarded by many as the most influential tome in theoretical ecology published in the latter half of the 20th Century. Its importance is due to its success in predicting the causes and outcomes of variations in species diversity across a wide range of habitats, not only tropical islands. Furthermore it is the underlying theory behind current research in conservation biology. And it has played a magnificient role in analyzing fluctuations in taxonomic diversity from both marine and continental fossil records across the span of more than half a billion years of Earth history. MacArthur and Wilson conceived of a simple, yet conceptually fruitful equilibrium model of species diversity, recognizing that species diversity is often in a state of flux between varying rates of species immigration (or perhaps, speciation) and extinction. This then novel way at looking at species diversity combined MacArthur’s sound mathematical reasoning with Wilson’s excellent field biogeographic research (Yet those who are not mathematically inclined should not feel intimidated; their theoretical arguments are made through lucid, exquisite prose.). Without a doubt, their equilibrium theory of island biogeography is one of the finest achievements of 20th Century ecology.  

dated, but excellent for seeing where the field began, August 25, 2003

This is a wonderful book that spawned a new sub-field in ecology as well as providing a major theoretical approach to conservation issues. Island biogeography provided us with a new way to view biodiversity as it related to space. A wonderful book. 

The young lion revisited, July 30, 2000

This review is from: Theory of Island Biogeography. (MPB-1) (Paperback)

Robert McArthur was on he knew was his last speaking trip across the country when I heard him in Boulder in the winter of 1974. He didn’t talk about death; he talked about life and how it works. He wrote one short equation on the blackboard, then talked about it for an hour. No long after he was dead, but he was the real young lion, he changed ecology forever. His start was simple: look at avifauna in terms of foliage height diversity, but he did not stop there.

Wilson? He’s brilliant in his own way, of course, but I’m betting his contribution to Island Biogeography was criticism and editing.

People have spent a lot of time attacking parts of this book, an equation here, an equation there. And if you don’t like equations at all, skip them and go for the ideas. This was the seminal book, the start of the New Era, where complex ideas can be encapsulated in a brief expression, then turned around and it’s implications tested. It will teach you how to think.