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Environmental Biology

textbook cover image
The Environmental Biology cover by Open Oregon is used under a CC BY 4.0 license (

Description: Environmental Biology enables students to develop a nuanced understanding of today’s most pressing environmental issues. This text helps students grasp the scientific foundation of these issues so that they can better understand the world around them and their impact upon it. This open textbook covers the most salient environmental issues, from a biological perspective. The text is designed for an introductory-level college science course. Topics include the fundamentals of ecology, biodiversity, pollution, climate change, food production, and human population growth.

Author: Matthew R. Fisher, Editor, Open Oregon

Original source:

Adoption (faculty): Contact us if you are using this textbook in your course

Adaptations: Support for adapting an open textbook

Open Textbooks:

Creative Commons License
Environmental Biology by Matthew R. Fisher, Editor, Open Oregon is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

1. Reviewed by: Frank Williams
  • Institution: Langara College
  • Title/Position: Instructor, Biology Dept.
  • Overall Rating: 4.2 out of 5
  • Date:
  • License: Creative Commons License

Q: The text covers all areas and ideas of the subject appropriately and provides an effective index and/or glossary

This text at first appears to be missing some topics normally available in textbooks for this area, as it has only 11 chapters compared to the normal textbook average of roughly double that. But actually much the same number of topics are bundled into the 11 chapters. So, for example, instead of "Populations" and "Community Ecology" getting their own chapters, they are addressed as a single chapter headed "Community and Population Ecology". Each topic in the text gets a concise introduction, but many users may well need to supplement heavily for most of the text. For example, the topic of "Wetlands" is covered in half a page; climate change gets only seven pages, and plant defence from herbivory gets two pages, as does parasitism.

More photos could be included - for example, some exotic pest species are named, but a photo of each would be helpful.

Nice embedded video clips from MinuteEarth - simple but very clear and informative.

The text is presented in condensed blocks - very efficient for printing but perhaps it could be broken up a bit to make it more accessible to readers. But the text itself has good clarity, reads well, and should be accessible to a wide audience.

Each chapter starts with learning outcomes and finishes with a good summary and with review questions.

Comprehensiveness Rating: 3 out of 5

Q: Content is accurate, error-free and unbiased

Content is written for use in the United States and so users in BC might well wish to substitute BC, Canadian, or international examples and perspectives. For example, the biomes tend to have US photos and wherever possible, US locations, the discussion of indigenous struggles (1.5) is only concerned with US history, and this pattern holds true for the entire text. Even the trophic systems use species found in the US but not generally in the rest of the Americas

Where inaccuraccies exist, it is only because some graphs and figures are already out of date - fast-moving topics such as climate change, plastic usage, coral bleaching need newer figures; the one for ground-water depletion in the US dates from 2005 and some figures are from the more distant past. As with any text, but perhaps particularly with a condensed text such as this one, there are errors of omission - perhaps I missed it, but for example, I did not find any explanation of pH; aquatic ecosystems do not mention the terms lentic and lotic, and although malaria is discussed, there was no life-cycle present.

Content Accuracy Rating: 4 out of 5

Q: Content is up-to-date, but not in a way that will quickly make the text obsolete within a short period of time. The text is written and/or arranged in such a way that necessary updates will be relatively easy and straightforward to implement

Content often needs updating along with expansion in many areas, but updates and additions should be easy to add. Some updating may be possible with links.

Relevance Rating: 3 out of 5

Q: The text is written in lucid, accessible prose, and provides adequate context for any jargon/technical terminology used

The text is clear and concise, and very suitable to a first-year level. Biology is full of terminology, but this text identifies that terminology and provides good explanations.

Clarity Rating: 5 out of 5

Q: The text is internally consistent in terms of terminology and framework

Environmental Biology follows the standard order of presentation of topics for this type of course/text, starting with the simple (cell theory) and general (matter, energy, scientific process) and then moves on to ecology followed by application of ecology (agriculture, human health). Some might wish to alter the sequence of chapters - the chapter on water (Chapter 7) comes after those on ecosystems, the biosphere, and ecology, but the chapters could simply be taught in a different order if that was desired - each chapter is fairly stand-alone.

Consistency Rating: 5 out of 5

Q: The text is easily and readily divisible into smaller reading sections that can be assigned at different points within the course (i.e., enormous blocks of text without subheadings should be avoided). The text should not be overly self-referential, and should be easily reorganized and realigned with various subunits of a course without presenting much disruption to the reader.

Each chapter is broken into three to six (usually five) modules, so assigning specific readings would be easy. The modules follow logical order (the ozone depletion module follows atmospheric pollution), but otherwise are "stand alone" units or subunits.

There are relatively few "special interest" topic boxes - such as the one on Love Canal, these could be supplemented.

Modularity Rating: 5 out of 5

Q: The topics in the text are presented in a logical, clear fashion

Chapters and topics within each chapter are presented in a logical sequence, but each has minimal references to other parts of the book and so could be mixed and matched to suite particular course requirements.

Organization Rating: 5 out of 5

Q: The text is free of significant interface issues, including navigation problems, distortion of images/charts, and any other display features that may distract or confuse the reader

Overall, the text has minimal navigation issues, and resolution of most of the figures is adequate, though more figures and photographs might aid understanding of many topics. There is no glossary nor any index, each of which would be a useful addition.

As mentioned before, larger bodies of text might benefit from better spacing.

Interface Rating: 3 out of 5

Q: The text contains no grammatical errors

The text has minimal issues of spelling or grammatical errors, although Canadian adopters might want to revert to Canadian spelling for some words where the US spelling differs (color vs colour etc.).

Grammar Rating: 5 out of 5

Q: The text is not culturally insensitive or offensive in any way. It should make use of examples that are inclusive of a variety of races, ethnicities, and backgrounds

The topics covered by this text do not inherently have much content which deals with gender, national origin, disability , sexual orientation, nor religion, and this text mostly does not deal with these areas. The notable exceptions is 1.5 which covers the two topics of Environmental Justice and Indigenous People in two pages of text and one photo. Canadian adopters of this text would likely want to substitute a Canadian perspective for the US perspective in both these subjects, and perhaps expand on them as well. The text was clearly written for a US audience - there is very little mention of the world outside the US.

Cultural Relevance Rating: 4 out of 5

Q: Are there any other comments you would like to make about this book, for example, its appropriateness in a Canadian context or specific updates you think need to be made?

Not only do I recommend this text but I may use it myself for a first year environmental ecology course. It needs elaboration, some updating, and additions in places, but it is well written, well organized, and covers the basics well. If the book was a house, I would say it needs some small repairs, is a bit small but suitable to expansion, and can be updated without difficulty. Clearly the house was built well originally, and a lot of work went into it - with a bit more work it could be a gem, but a gem at low cost.