The subject of plant galls is wide-ranging, and yet so little is known about the mechanisms that cause gall formation as well as the life cycles of the organisms that initiate gall growth. Since most galls do not cause any economic damage to crop plants, research funding has traditionally been sparse in this area. However, the insect cycles and gall structures are amazing examples of the complexity of nature.
Most naturalists have come across oak apples, robin's pincushions, marble galls and witches' brooms. These are some of the more familiar examples of the strange growths that are plant galls: beautiful, often bizarre and colourful, and amazingly diverse in structure and in the organisms which cause them. They have been known since ancient times; both the ancient Greeks and the Chinese used them in herbal medicine, and in later times they had a variety of commercial uses. Plant galls vary in size and structure from small bumps, pustules, pimples and hairy patches to large swellings and bizarre growths, nothing like any structure typically produced by plants.
Margaret Redfern explores these fascinating complexities in this volume, providing much-needed insight into the variety of galls of different types caused by a wide range of organisms including fungi, insects and mites. She discusses the ecology of galls more generally and focuses on communities of organisms within galls, the evolution and distribution of galls, and human and historical perspectives.
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Margaret Redfern has been interested in plant galls for most of her adult life. After graduating in 1963, she studied part-time for higher degrees while teaching natural history and ecology to sixth formers, undergraduates and adult amateurs, first for the Field Studies Council and later at Portsmouth, Birmingham and Sheffield Universities. Her MSc research involved the natural history of thistle galls, and her PhD covered a population study of the yew gall midge. This research became a long-term project lasting forty years, forming the longest continuous data set on a gall insect, and probably on any insect, anywhere in the world. She continues to teach degree students at Sheffield University and to investigate the natural history of galls. She has published several books and papers, all of them on galls.