This book owes its inception to my fascination with the natural microcosms that are water-filled tree holes and, subsequently, the broader class of plant container habitats we call phytotelmata. That fascination was born, first, in a Somerset woodland, when my fellow undergraduate Alastair Sommerville pointed out to me a massive stump hole, commenting that such places were both entomologically special and of great potential as objects of ecological study. Accordingly, in 1966, when Charles Elton suggested to me that I make such habitats the subject of my DPhil at Oxford, his words fell on fertile ground. For me, the next three years were a time of learning and discovery under the supervision of Mick Southern and, unofficially, of Kitty Paviour-Smith. They taught me the fine art of combining natural history with ecology, scholarship with innovation.
This groundwork would have counted for nothing, and my primary preoccupation would have remained butterflies and bugs, but for two other persons. In 1979 Howard Frank invited me to participate in a symposium organised by Phil Lounibos and himself at the Kyoto Congress of Entomology. He suggested that I compare English and Australian tree-hole communities. Alas, at that point in time, I had not looked at Australian tree holes, but with an eighteen month lead time before the Congress, I set to and made a first study, with Cathy Callaghan, of tree-hole communities in the subtropical rainforests of south-east Queensland.