Book Review:

Coastal Plankton

Photo Guide for European Seas

by Otto Larink & Wilfried Westheide

reviewed by Wim van Egmond

Sometimes you come across a book that you wished was published years before. This review is about such a book.

There are not many subjects more interesting for us Microscopists than the study of marine plankton. Almost all the major Phyla of organisms are present and for many of them we can find their life stages, from eggs to larvae to adults. Most of these organisms are very transparent so their internal anatomy is clearly visible. There are not only many interesting organisms that we can find in the sea, there is also a lot to see inside them.


However, there are several disadvantages to the subject. The first one is that plankton samples don't last very long. When you have collected marine water it will only stay fresh for a couple of days. The solution for that is to spend a holiday near the sea! Not a very unpleasant solution.

Another problem we may encounter when we start to study and observe microlife from marine water is that most marine organisms look completely alien. The microscopic larvae of marine creatures don't resemble their adult forms at all. So we need good literature to be able to identify microorganisms from the sea. Of course there is a lot of literature about the subject but most is very technical and not very useful for beginners.


Therefore I was very pleased to discover the book 'Coastal Plankton, Photo Guide to the European Seas' by Otto Larink & Wilfried Westheide. It is a German publication but they were so kind to write this book in English.

The book is not very heavy, a paperback, 143 pages, 21 by 24 centimeters but it is crammed with full colour images (649) and the text is to the point! I have not seen a better beginners guideon the subject myself, and it's quite affordable compared to most marine biology books: 30 Euro.

One of the smart ideas in this book is the addition of macro pictures of the adult forms of the planktonic larvae. Because the larvae usually don't resemble their adult forms this is a very useful addition.

Of course I'll have to make some comments, otherwise this would not be a review but an advertisment. I have to do my best to find some points of critique. Apart from the fact that it should have been published years earlier, (so I would have been able to use it when I started observing marine plankton), there is one remark I would like to make about the photographs. In some cases, (e.g. the Diatoms and the Ciliates), too many images were made with differential interference contrast (Nomarski). Most microscopists, not just the beginners, will not be able to obtain such an expensive technique on their microscope. It would perhaps have been better if there would also have been some phase contrast or brightfield images on these pages because that is what most people will observe these organisms with. But it is understandable that when you have such a technique, you use it. Apart from a few exceptions (Actinoptychus senarius!) the photomicrographs are of good to very good quality.

Now I have proved my objectivity as a reviewer there remains one question that has to be answered. Are you interested in marine plankton? When the answer is 'yes', Buy the Book!

For non-Europeans, the book is about the European seas so it is meant to be a guide to the genera you can find in Europe and the Mediterranean. But perhaps it might even be useful for people who live on other continents. Although the most common species are mentioned, the book is not meant as a key to identify species. Taxonomy of marine life is really a specialist's work. But for beginning marine biologists, amateur naturalists and microscopists this book is the perfect guide. Book a holiday to the seaside, take this book with you and enjoy the wonderful world of marine plankton!

This is an example of the page with Echinoderm larvae. Several downloadable high res PDFs can be found on the publisher's web site.


Larink, Otto & Wilfried Westheide:
Coastal Plankton
Photo Guide for European Seas
2006 Verlag Dr. Friedrich Pfeil
ISBN 3-89937-062-7
Euro 30.00

More about the book, examples of the pages, information how to order, can be found on the website of the Publisher, Verlag Dr. Friedrich Pfeil:

Acknowledgement: The author and Micscape Editor would like to thank the publisher Pfeil-Verlag for permission to use the book cover and book content images for this review. The images are not to be further used without the publisher's permission.


Comments to the author Wim van Egmond are welcomed.

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Published in February 2006 Micscape Magazine.

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