Eugene Odum, Author of Fundamentals of Ecology

In “Eugene Odum: The father of modern ecology” (UGA Today, 9 January 2018), James Hataway writes (:

Eugene Odum was not given to fits of anger, but this time he was furious.

It was the fall of 1946. Odum, then a young associate professor in the University of Georgia’s biology department, had taught a course on ecology for several semesters and was passionate about the subject.

In a meeting with his colleagues, Odum suggested that his ecology class be required of all new biology majors. His fellow scientists looked at him and laughed. Odum stormed out of the room but was not deterred. That night, he began writing a guiding set of principles that would ultimately serve as the foundation for the discipline’s first textbook.

Today, no one laughs about Odum’s work.

He is lionized throughout s­cience as the father of modern ecology and recognized by the University of Georgia as the founder of what became the ­Eugene P. Odum School of Ecology — the world’s first stand-alone college of ecology, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year.

In 1970, he became the first UGA faculty member to be elected to membership in the National Academy of Sciences.

Yeah, science and the scientific community are not the same thing. How many times has this kind of thing happened in human history, in the scientific community, and beyond. Innumerable. Semmelweiss. Killer Whales. Wolves. Predators. Bee pollination. The EEG. And all kinds of things in politics and daily life.

Mr. Hataway goes on to write:

“Fundamentals of Ecology,” which Odum published in 1953 with his younger brother and fellow ecologist Howard, was the discipline’s only textbook for more than a decade. This book was the first to suggest that scientists approach nature “top-down.”

In his landmark book, Odum argued that we cannot hope to understand the environment without first appreciating the complex biological economy of shared resources, competition and cooperation. The ecosystem, he was fond of saying, is greater than the sum of its parts.

“We would not first bring the student the liver of the frog, have him study that, then the next day bring him the isolated stomach or each individual muscle one by one — and finally during the last week of the course attempt to assemble all the parts into a frog,” he wrote. “Our poor frog would be most incomplete and probably bear little resemblance to the real frog when we tried to assemble the parts we did study! Yet amazing as it may seem, many attempt to teach ecology using this backwards ‘parts-before-the-whole procedure.’ ” © University of Georgia, Athens, GA 30602

Yes. We cannot deduce some supposed “less fundamental” from some supposed “more fundamental.” We cannot deduce the behavior and intelligence of Ravens, as Bernd Heinirch has pointed out, by studying them in a lab or studying their neurology. We have to observe, conceptualize, generalize, integrate, and connect, connect, connect. Every real biologist is a naturalist.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *