The theory and practice of molecular ecology draw on a number of subjects, particularly genetics, ecology and evolutionary biology. Although the foundations of molecular ecology are not particularly new, it did not emerge until the 1980s as the discipline that we now recognize. Since that time the growth of molecular ecology has been explosive, in part because molecular data are becoming increasingly accessible and also because it is, by its very nature, a collaborative discipline. Molecular ecology is now a broad area of research that embraces topics as varied as population genetics, conservation genetics, molecular evolution, behavioural ecology and biogeography, and has added much to our understanding of ecology. Researchers in molecular ecology now routinely publish their work in a wide range of ecological and evolutionary journals (including Molecular Ecology, first published in 1992), and also in more general publications such as Science and Nature.
Although somewhat varied, the areas of research within molecular ecology are united by the fact that they all use molecular genetic data to help us understand the ecology and evolution of organisms in the wild. Although there are many excellent texts that cover general ecology and evolution, there is currently a shortage of books that provide a comprehensive overview of molecular ecology. The most important goal of this book, therefore, has been to present molecular genetics, population genetics and applied molecular ecology in a logical and uncomplicated — but not oversimplified — manner, using up-to-date examples from a wide range of taxa. This text is aimed at upper-level undergraduate and postgraduate students, as well as at researchers who may be relatively new to molecular ecology or are thinking about different ways to address their research questions using molecular data.
Each chapter may be read in isolation, but there is a structure to the book that should be particularly useful to students who read the text in its entirety. The first two chapters provide a brief history of molecular ecology and a review of genetics, followed by an overview of molecular markers and the types of data they generate. Chapters 3 and 4 then build on this foundation by looking at ways in which molecular data can be used to characterize single and multiple populations. Having read Chapters 1–4, readers should have a good understanding of the relevant theory and practice behind molecular markers and population genetics.
Chapter 5 then builds on this by adding an explicit evolutionary component within the context of phylogeography. Chapters 6 and 7 then focus on two additional, specific applications of molecular ecology, namely behavioural ecology and conservation genetics. Finally, chapter 8 provides a more general overview of the practical applications of molecular ecology, paying particular attention to questions surrounding law enforcement, agriculture and fishing, which will be of interest to biologists and non-biologists alike.
As an aid to the reader, each chapter is followed by a summary, a list of useful websites and software and some recommended further reading. Suggestions for further reading also can, of course, come from the extensive reference list at the end of the book. There are review questions after each chapter that students can use to identify key points and test their knowledge. There is also a glossary at the end of the book, and glossary words are highlighted in bold when they first appear in the text. An ongoing website (www.wiley.com/go/freeland) will be maintained upon which corrections and new developments will be reported, and from which figures that may be used as teaching aids, can be downloaded.
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