How is it to write a textbook? That was the question I was wondering about when approaching my forties. A colleague once mentioned to me, his mentor had told him that forty years of age is the magic threshold when researchers really begin to see the holistic picture of their research as if standing on a mountain top and seeing the horizon at last. Was I at that stage and saw how everything was connected? A good question at the time and difficult to answer. To some degree, yes. I felt ready and got curious and started asking around when and why other academics felt compelled to write a textbook. I personally had felt this strong vocation for a long time without being able to say where it had actually come from. So I was interested to learn why others had decided to write a textbook. The answers varied as was to be expected. Some authors were invited to join a senior colleague, others were working in a field that was not well covered at the time and thought there was an urgent need to fill this gap in the literature. One colleague told me he felt committed to writing a substantial textbook in forest ecology to boost research cooperation and was richly rewarded by the warm reception the book had received. There was also a distinctive (almost geographic) pattern (I am not revealing where…) of academics nearing retirement or writing textbooks in their retirement that often did not make it beyond the first edition. Of course, scientific skills, knowledge and insights keep growing all the time and beyond the age of 40 or even beyond retirement there are still many scientific breakthroughs and insights to expect from most academics. And universities are well advised to make good use of their capital of emeriti professors…
It seemed many textbook authors did not engage in lengthy analyses or even did pros and cons to deliberate whether they should or should not engage in writing their book. Most authors of the better books simply felt the need, the personal urge to embark on this adventure. And an adventure it truly is. For a start you often get discouraged by your own organisations to write a book, since articles are rated more highly. I have seen this at a number of universities. This is a shame, since textbooks are the only way to show the big, holistic picture, i.e. how all the small peer-reviewed research papers relate and together make a big, intriguing story. Also, of course, textbooks are a crucial contribution to academic education and ensure that all our good ideas are passed on to the next generation of researchers and practitioners.
Once I had emancipated myself from these concerns my mind opened up to comments from those colleagues from across the world who had nudged me for years and suggested I should write a textbook that would include my research in spatial forest structure, growth analysis, individual-based modelling and human tree selection behaviour. Most of these well-meaning colleagues advised: “Write the book now, not later.” So I sat down and considered the task. For years I had been teaching courses on these subjects to BSc, MSc and PhD students. While I was still pondering the contents and structure of the book, I was awarded my SLU chaired professorship at Umeå and I sadly had to put the book plans on hold while building up my new professorship and research group, which, of course, was also fun and very exciting. Then after four years the opportunity arose to get relieved of some duties and to free up time. This was the chance to engage in writing the textbook and to finish it. The last four years my group and I managed to publish many good research paper that would lent good authority to the book. So one fine sunny afternoon in September 2018 in my office at Umeå the book “Individual-based methods in forest ecology and management” was finally conceived and nine months later we submitted the manuscript. Pavel Grabarnik from the Russian Academy of Sciences in Pushchino had joined the book project on my invitation. Pavel and I go back a long way and have discussed questions of ecological modelling for more than ten years. It was a particularly nice experience for us to work so closely together for such an intense period and rewarding task. The forword was kindly written by Dan Binkley, a recent Wallenberg professor at SLU. During his visits to Umeå Dan and I shared inspiring discussions and reflected on individual-based forest ecology and management.
Looking back the writing process was really fun. It was an eye-opener also for us authors. Better than ever before we saw and understood how seemingly different concepts and ideas were related and how big and important the field of individual-based forest ecology and management actually is. The writing process was a true academic quest and every hour spent was worth it. The most dreary and nerve-racking time clearly was checking the proofs this summer but that was not our experience alone and is part of the process of writing a book.
Well, now here it is. One of these greenish books with a little bishop on the front cover. The text provides essential information on theories and concepts of individual-based forest ecology and management and introduces point process statistics for analysing plant interactions. This is followed by methods of spatial modelling with a focus on individual-based models. The book is complemented by key concepts of modern plant growth science. Finally new methods of measuring, analysing and modelling human interaction with trees in forest ecosystems are introduced and discussed. For better access and understanding, all methods introduced in this book are accompanied by example code ready to use in the statistical software R and by worked examples.
I hope you will enjoy it. Check it out! My first course based on the new book will be given at BOKU University, Vienna in October this year. We thank the team at Springer for the excellent cooperation and for their patience.
And please academics, don’t give up despite the odds! Live your dreams and write your textbooks. Academia needs every single one of them.