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G. Evelyn Hutchinson and the Invention of Modern Ecology

G. Evelyn Hutchinson and the Invention of Modern Ecology

Nancy G. Slack
Foreword by Edward O. Wilson
Copyright Date: 2010
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 352
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  • Book Info
    G. Evelyn Hutchinson and the Invention of Modern Ecology
    Book Description:

    Stephen J. Gould declared G. Evelyn Hutchinson the most important ecologist of the twentieth century. E. O. Wilson pronounced him "one of the few scientists who could unabashedly be called a genius." In this fascinating book, Nancy G. Slack presents for the first time the full life story of this brilliant scientist who was also a master teacher, a polymath, and a delightful friend and correspondent.

    Based on full access to Hutchinson's archives and extensive interviews with him and many who knew him, the author evaluates his important contributions to modern ecology and his profound influence as a mentor. Filled with information available nowhere else, the book draws a vibrant portrait of an original scientific thinker who was also a man of remarkable personal appeal.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-16174-8
    Subjects: History, Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, History of Science & Technology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-x)
    Edward O. Wilson

    G. Evelyn Hutchinson was the last great Victorian naturalist, a pioneer of modern ecology and justifiably called its founder, the one who brought the discipline into the Modern Synthesis of evolutionary theory. He was a polymath, master expositor, and teacher, and one of the few scientists who could unabashedly be called a genius. Because of Hutchinson’s extraordinary scholarship and breadth of his influence, historians of science and general readers will be grateful for Nancy Slack’s well-written, reliable, and insightful biography.

    Hutchinson lived in the golden age of ecology, when useful discoveries in the field were easy to make and fit...

  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
  6. CHAPTER ONE A Man So Various
    (pp. 1-14)

    If there is anything I thank the Gods for . . . it is a wide diversity of tastes. Barred from scientific work, I should be miserable, if there were not heaps of other topics that interest me, from Gadarene pigs to Gladstonian psychology. . . . The cosmos remains always beautiful and profoundly interesting in every corner—and if I had as many lives as a cat I should leave no corner unexplored.” These words are a quotation from Thomas Huxley, writing about himself.¹ But G. Evelyn Hutchinson, born in 1903, just eight years after Huxley’s death, could have...

  7. CHAPTER TWO “The Circumstances of My Upbringing”
    (pp. 15-41)

    Why is it that childhood experiences, painful or enriching, affect one child in a particular way and a brother or sister quite differently? It is difficult to separate out the individual child from the external influences, including the attitudes and expectations of parents. Moreover, biography is influenced by hindsight. The end of the story is known; we can only try to sort out the influences that seem to be important in their early aspects.

    G. Evelyn Hutchinson was born in Cambridge, England, in 1903. He lived in and near Cambridge until 1925, when he completed his university education. Cambridge in...

  8. CHAPTER THREE Becoming a Zoologist: The Hunter and Gatherer
    (pp. 42-62)

    Hutchinson never did graduate work at Cambridge; in fact, he never earned a doctorate. His first two post-Cambridge ventures as a zoologist, at Naples and in South Africa, could both be deemed failures. At Naples his research efforts were not successful. At Witwatersrand University in South Africa, he was fired as a teacher. One could not have predicted his extraordinary future career from the several years that followed his Cambridge graduation in 1925. Yet his Cambridge undergraduate years were fundamental to that future success. His experiences at Cambridge were also the source of his views on education, particularly graduate education,...

  9. CHAPTER FOUR From Naples to South Africa: A Failed Career?
    (pp. 63-88)

    Hutchinson at age twenty-two was about to start on his first real venture outside of England. He had been awarded a Rockefeller Higher Education Fellowship to do research at the Stazione Zoologica. “You ought to have a glorious time at Naples, with splendid opportunities. Sardinia should also yield well.” So wrote entomologist E. A. Butler to Hutchinson before he left Cambridge. Butler was writing about insects, of course.¹ Hutchinson was bound for Naples, however, not to look for water bugs but to investigate the branchial gland of the octopus.

    The Stazione Zoologica in Naples was a mecca for zoologists who...

  10. CHAPTER FIVE First Years at Yale
    (pp. 89-99)

    A British Cantabrigian both by birth and by training, he has chosen to spend the greater part of his professional life in such alien provinces as Italy, Africa and Yale.” Hutchinson arrived at Yale in 1928. He stayed until 1991 in this “alien province”—virtually the rest of his professional life.¹

    When Evelyn Hutchinson and his wife Grace Pickford arrived at Yale University in September of 1928, the Zoology Department was a separate entity, housed in the Osborne Zoological Laboratory (OZL). The zoology chairman, Ross Harrison, was back from his year in Europe. Other zoology professors were L. L. Woodruff,...

  11. CHAPTER SIX Chief Biologist: The Yale North India Expedition
    (pp. 100-114)

    In 1932 a scientific expedition was launched to northern India, including Kashmir and specifically Ladakh, under the auspices of Yale University. It was generally referred to as the Yale North India Expedition. The expedition leader was Professor Hellmut de Terra, a German geologist with considerable earlier experience in Central Asia. He was formerly at the University of Berlin but in 1931 was a research associate in geology at Yale University. De Terra wrote a “Memorandum for an Expedition to the Himalaya and Karakorum” and persuaded Yale to let him organize it. In his memorandum de Terra described his experience on...

  12. CHAPTER SEVEN The First Crop: W. T. Edmondson, Gordon Riley, Ed Deevey, and Max Dunbar
    (pp. 115-137)

    After Hutchinson returned from the North India Expedition, Yale graduate students began to study with him. The first two were Gordon Riley and Edward Deevey. But even before these two began their studies with Hutchinson, W. T. (Tommy) Edmondson had come to work in Hutchinson’s laboratory; he remained there throughout his undergraduate and graduate career. All three of these men became eminent scientists, best known in oceanography, ecology, and limnology, respectively.

    Edmondson, who was later known for his leadership of a large group of limnologists at the University of Washington and for the spectacular cleanup of Seattle’s Lake Washington, was...

  13. CHAPTER EIGHT The Old and the New Limnology
    (pp. 138-158)

    Hutchinson’s interest in the fresh water world started by age five or six. By then he was already collecting organisms in ponds and ditches near his home in Cambridge and making aquaria. Later, at Gresham’s School in Holt, he was an accomplished student of water bugs. Collecting could be done only during his free time on Sunday afternoons: “Throughout Sunday we had to be dressed in our best clothes; striped trousers, black waistcoat and jacket, stiff turn-down collar with black tie. . . . Thus attired with pond-net, killing-bottle and jars for live specimens I set out each week for...

  14. CHAPTER NINE Radioisotopes: Radiation Ecology and Systems Ecology
    (pp. 159-170)

    G. Evelyn Hutchinson and his graduate student and research assistant Vaughan Bowen are usually credited with doing the first field experiments using radioisotopes as tracers. In doing so they invented a new major field of ecology, later referred to as radiation ecology. This chapter explores how this technique was first used in the United States and the later development of isotope research in ecology. The cultural context of this story is the interest in and fears about atomic energy after World War II, on one hand, and the opportunities that radio-isotopes provided for a new type of “big science,” on...

  15. CHAPTER TEN Biogeochemistry: From Linsley Pond to the Guano Islands
    (pp. 171-198)

    The image of Hutchinson as a young high school boy in the laboratory perfecting his chemical titrations before allowing himself to go out on a Sunday collecting trip relates to much of his work as a scientist. Among future ecologists in both Britain and the United States, he was exceptionally well trained at an early age in physics, chemistry, and geology. From his earliest work he saw applications of these fields to the lives of the organisms that he studied. There is a great deal of water chemistry in his early studies of the fauna of South African pans. When...

  16. CHAPTER ELEVEN The Three Wives and Yemaiel
    (pp. 199-234)

    Man was not meant to live alone. What is true for an ordinary man is even truer for a research biologist,” commented a fellow ecologist while discussing Evelyn Hutchinson.¹ Women were always important in Hutchinson’s life—his wives and also other women who were his close friends. As one of his graduate students remarked, these women themselves were of unusual interest—and not just because of their link with him.

    During his long life, Evelyn Hutchinson had three very different wives. The first two, Grace Pickford (who kept her own name) and Margaret Seal Hutchinson, were English; the third, Anne...

  17. CHAPTER TWELVE Good Friends: Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson
    (pp. 235-249)

    Evelyn Hutchinson had many close friends throughout his life; he had a special talent for friendship. Foremost among his well-known friends and longtime correspondents were American anthropologist Margaret Mead; Gregory Bateson, who was once her husband; and the English writer Rebecca West. These friendships were both personal and professional. They stayed at each other’s homes in New Haven, New York, and England. Hutchinson helped to edit Margaret Mead’s books; they had much correspondence on a variety of topics. He exchanged hundreds of letters with Rebecca West over a long period of time.

    A surprising number of Hutchinson’s fellow Cambridge University...

  18. CHAPTER THIRTEEN Fond Correspondents: Rebecca West and Evelyn Hutchinson
    (pp. 250-274)

    Rebecca’s death is a shock—mostly a dozen times a day when I realise I can’t write to her.” So wrote Evelyn Hutchinson to his World War II foster child Yemaiel when the English writer Rebecca West died in March of 1983. She had been Hutchinson’s close friend and constant correspondent for more than thirty-five years.

    “She clearly died of overwork, at 90, on the Ides of March, which I am sure would have seemed wryly amusing and most appropriate to her,” Evelyn continued.¹ Hutchinson arranged with the staff of the Yale University Library to put on an exhibition in...

  19. CHAPTER FOURTEEN From the N-dimensional Niche to Santa Rosalia
    (pp. 275-293)

    Clearly, G. E. Hutchinson spanned much of the period between the first colonization of ecology by mathematical theoreticians and the more recent one, and was on the beach to welcome the new colonists,”¹ wrote Robert McIntosh. He was not the only one to use this metaphor. It was Hutchinson’s formalization of the niche that probably propelled the “pioneer existence on the intellectual frontier of ecology,” cited by Platil and Rosenzweig.² The image of Hutchinson and his graduate students spearheading the “colonization” of ecology is striking. One could certainly argue that this process had started much earlier in terms of Hutchinson...

  20. CHAPTER FIFTEEN Hutchinson the Environmentalist
    (pp. 294-319)

    The most practical lasting benefit science can now offer is to teach man to avoid destruction of his own environment, and how, by understanding himself with true humility and pride, to find ways to avoid injuries that at present he inflicts on himself with such devastating energy.” Hutchinson wrote that in 1943.¹ He was barely forty, but it remained his lifelong philosophy. The title of Hutchinson’s partial autobiography of his early years,The Kindly Fruits of the Earth,embodies the same philosophy. It comes from “Preserve, O Lord, the kindly fruits of the earth that we may enjoy them in...

  21. CHAPTER SIXTEEN The Polymath: Art History and Many Other Fields
    (pp. 320-333)

    He knew, and everybody knew he knew, everything.” One of Evelyn Hutchinson’s students could well have written this line about Hutchinson; several of them said as much. It was actually intended to refer to J. D. Bernal, the English “sage of science,” another polymath, expert on crystal structure, but on ancient architecture as well.¹

    Who was this man Hutchinson? Why was he so important to so many people, some of whom had never even met him? Innovative thinker, excellent intellectual synthesizer, integrator of diverse scientific fields, he was an extraordinary teacher, writer, and friend. His major scientific fields included evolutionary...

  22. CHAPTER SEVENTEEN The Last Years—From Yale to England
    (pp. 334-370)

    In 1983 both Hutchinson’s wife Margaret and his close friend Rebecca West died. Although Margaret survived Rebecca by a few months, she was already seriously impaired by Alzheimer’s disease. Evelyn wrote to Yemaiel just after Rebecca’s death. He said that Margaret did realize what had happened when Rebecca’s secretary called to tell them but had forgotten by later in the day. Evelyn “had to go all through the pain again.”

    During Margaret’s decline with Alzheimer’s, his doctor had insisted that Evelyn get out daily for at least an hour in the library or lab, which he did. He had, nevertheless,...

  23. CHAPTER EIGHTEEN Concluding Remarks: Hutchinson’s Legacy in Ecology
    (pp. 371-394)

    Evelyn Hutchinson, one of the twentieth century’s most notable scientific polymaths, was a polymath within his chosen field of ecology as well. His work appears in nearly every chapter of Robert McIntosh’s bookThe Background of Ecology: Concept and Theory.¹ Hutchinson, as noted earlier, when called the “Father of Ecology,” always insisted that that title belonged to Charles Darwin. Darwin does indeed appear many times in McIntosh’s book, but without Hutchinson’s ecological breadth. Hutchinson appears in the chapters entitled “Limnology,” “Animal Community Dynamics,” “Quantitative Community Ecology,” “Population Ecology,” “Theoretical Ecology,” “Competition and Equilibrium,” “Ecosystem Ecology,” “Ecologists as Philosophers,” “Ecological Theory...

  24. Notes
    (pp. 395-430)
  25. Bibliography
    (pp. 431-442)
  26. Index
    (pp. 443-457)