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G. Evelyn Hutchinson a.k.a. Father of modern limnology and the modern Darwin

The world may never see another humanist and scientist as G. Evelyn Hutchinson

Soil & Water Conservation Society of Metro Halifax (SWCSMH)

[Img-G. Evelyn Hutchinson]

This web page is incomplete. Like the father of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, George Evelyn Hutchinson died before he was able to finish his work. He did not want to leave it unfinished, but the abrasions of time slowly led him to concede that he should publish only what he himself was able to complete. Clearly he believed with Pliny that Nature is to be found in her entirety nowhere more than in her smallest creations .......... (modified from, A Treatise on Limnology, vol. IV, The Zoobenthos. 1993. Foreword by the Editor, Yvette H. Edmondson)

Note: Most of the content in this file except for the `Professional altruism remarks' of Prof. Dr. Robert Wetzel were obtained from the plenary lecture of Prof. Dr. W.T. Edmondson, "Eulogy for G. Evelyn Hutchinson (1903-1991)", Verh. Internat. Verein. Limnol, 1993. 25:49–55.

July 26, 2006                Awards & Important Personalities


Hutchinson, a capsule

George Evelyn Hutchinson grew up while the field of Limnology was taking form. He started his university education the year before founding of the International Limnological Association. His lifespan gives us a scale for our profession. But he contributed richly to the development of several fields of science. He was respected by the professional occupiers of those fields. His understanding of geochemistry as well as biology gave him an usual command of biogeochemistry.

When an undergraduate physics major, interested in collecting and studying cosmic dust, asked the astrophysicist Rupert Wildt how to tell the difference between terrestrial and cosmic dust, he said "Go see Professor Hutchinson. He knows a lot about everything".

Hutchinson communicated equally well with oceanographers, geochemists, anthropologists, paleontologists, sociologists and behaviorists.

His connections were not limited to scientists; he was at home with artists, writers and musicians. Several times he was invited to contribute a lecture on seiches and their biological consequences to an interdisciplinary seminar on rhythm run in the Yale School of Music by the jazz musician Willie Ruff.

Admiration for Hutchinson was expressed in various ways. At the time of his retirement there was a special Celebratory Issue of Limnology and Oceanography with much biographical information, a bibliography, and scientific papers by former students and other associates, and a complementary volume from the Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences. At least 22 species of organisms were named for him.

Formal awards received by Hutchinson included:

Hutchinson was well aware of the importance of the linkage between science and society and of the need for an educated electorate. He was greatly concerned about the human population problem. Feeling that governmental officials were inadequately informed, he resolved to write a book that they could use to help them understand the problem.

The best examples of Hutchinson's general writings are the Marginalia that were a regular feature of the American Scientist.

Hutchinson's concern for the state of the world's environment was repeatedly expressed in his writings:

Evelyn Hutchinson used his considerable intellect wisely and well.

Excerpts from- "Professional altruism: Remarks by R. G. Wetzel", a recipient of the 1992 G. Evelyn Hutchinson Award of the ASLO

"I am an avid consumer of Hutchinson's words and syntheses with an appreciation similar to that held for Darwin; both are members of a group that appears only rarely in a particular discipline, perhaps once in a generation. As one reporter wrote, Hutchinson was a sage of enlightenment. It was a privilege to have known him, largely through his works. It is an honor to be associated by means of the Hutchinson Medal". ........................ Robert G. Wetzel's response on receiving the 1992 G. Evelyn Hutchinson Award

"Hutchinson's clear promulgations and syntheses of modern evolutionary ecology led to enormously enhanced understanding of the interactions of biotic communities. Careful perusal of the Hutchinsonian contributions demonstrates the depth of his understanding of geochemical regulation of biotic productivity and his perceptive couplings of the dynamics of abiotic and biotic controls. His comprehensive grasp of the holism of ecosystems is clearly not fully appreciated, but analyses in the future will continue for some time and vindicate his unifying perceptions.

I have read nearly all of Hutchinson's published works. One cannot but revere his breadth and perceptive understanding, but additionally the depth of comprehension and ability to present syntheses and interpretations in interesting prose. One outstanding feature of Hutchinson's writings was his scholarship and extraordinary attention to detail. Despite his unusual retention and memory, he did his homework with exhaustive, detailed evaluation of past studies on particular subjects that he was analyzing. This scholarship is the way science should be done. The great depth and lack of provincialism in his treatments were simply part of scientific procedures.

Professional altruism: We generally avoid looking at the past, but in this case we have much to learn. I raise a great concern of mine-that of waning altruism

"Conceptual inbreeding and fiscal conservatism are contributing to severe inhibition of innovative thought in limnology. The intensity of competition for limited human and fiscal resources has increased markedly. This competition has fostered much insularity and isolationism, both functionally as well as intellectually. The negative effects on aquatic sciences in general, and on limnology in particular, are apparent everywhere. The worst is competitive inbreeding of ideas and the circularity of research directions in short-term attempts to maintain small study centers. This protectionism leads to increasing intellectual circularity and narrowness. A schizophrenia develops which forces conservatism and narrow professions of belief in how aquatic ecosystems work even though not supported by quantitative data.

Free inquiry, essential to creativity, is actively suppressed. That suppression occurs not only as a result of the economic realities of research support from federal sources. The leaders of small groups often can be seen to accept and teach these behaviors as acceptable realities. They are not acceptable, and are contributing to reduced intellectual vigor. If we learn anything from the leadership of G.E. Hutchinson, it is that the whole is collectively much stronger and more contributory than small isolated pieces. He was receptive to ideas not in the mainstream, and tolerated statements that were adverse to the closed, protected stream of contemporary thought. Contributions were directed correctly to the enhancement of the discipline, not the individual. As has been demonstrated repeatedly, personal recognition is always more meaningful and substantial to those who have learned the intense gratification of developing a greater comprehension of the whole.

Limnology is experiencing much introspection at the present time. Such criticism is healthy if done constructively and honestly, and causes of underlying deficiencies are recognized and addressed. Many of the problems have arisen, in part, because we are purportedly forced to conform to governmental and societal demands.

I contend that a root cause is our stagnating abilities to properly educate and train students and public alike. It is essential to recognize that intellectual creativity is essential to excellence in science, and that excellence in science is essential to the most effective and cost-efficient management of our resources.

Improvements in graduate education and science training are essential. Again we can learn from Hutchinson. For example, his attribute of obtaining maximum background information prior to synthesis and interpretation is one that is becoming increasingly rare among young, contemporary scientists.

In editorial capacities, one observes an increasing reliance upon uninformed excuses that old perceptions are obviously of little foundation and relevance for modern interpretations. Increasingly frequent nonsense arguments emerge that too much information exists to integrate. Modern electronic search and organizational mean available to us are crutches not available or extensively used by scholarly giants as Hutchinson. This negligence is much more than acute laziness; it represents a marked deficiency in teaching of the constructs of science and how science is conducted properly.

Bibliographic negligence is more than a serious transgression; it is an important facet of scientific research and intellectual development that is being deleted. Whatever the social or professional pressures are that lead to such omissions are moot points; none is acceptable. Mentors must be faulted for this behavior to a greater extent than the young. Such myopia and lack of responsible scholarship leads to increasing frequency of scientific redundancy and inefficient use of intellectual and financial resources. More insidious is an increasing tendency to promote old ideas and interpretations under the guise of new and invariably ambiguous "buzz word" terms. Then these redundant ideas are actively touted and promoted as inspirational among noncritical peers, science writers, and even granting agency administrators that are unfamiliar with the background. Many contemporary topical reviews are incredibly naive, biased, incomplete, and parts are simply wrong. Such deficiencies in scholarship must be severely condemned; the professionalism of our discipline, so exquisitely mandated by Hutchinson, must be vigorously protected and enhanced. We have professional responsibilities to the profession that must be upheld, nurtured, and enhanced.

Another aspect of scholarship that was apparent with Hutchinson was the importance of continuous, progressively coupled contributions. Although few of us have the abilities of Hutchinson to contribute effectively in many different aspects of related disciplines, his breadth that led to the perceptive integrative capabilities was underlain by detailed coupled paths of study and examination. As one reads of his observations and thoughts as he examined the lakes and land uses of Tibet and Africa, for example, and subsequent biogeochemical analyses of many elements from aluminum to nitrogen and phosphorus, sources and fates of vertebrate excreta, and many others, one observes a mesh of continuity, coupling, integration.

If we as individuals do not have the integrative and synthetic capacities so evident in Hutchinson, the need can be met by working together for understanding the functioning if aquatic ecosystems. As we progress further into truly coupled analyses of ecosystems, it is becoming essential for a greater percentage of us to pool our expertise. This professional altruism is increasingly critical to our discipline."

Early life

George Evelyn Hutchinson was born on January 30, 1903 in Cambridge, England. He grew up in a society that valued intellect and appreciated the arts and humanities as well as the sciences. His father was an eminent professor of mineralogy at the university. His mother, Evaline Demezy, was descended from a member of the minor Italian nobility, Antonio Di Mezzi of Cocconato who, about 1760, abruptly emigrated to England after having killed a political opponent in a duel.

Family friends included a son of Charles Darwin as well as leaders in many fields.

http://www.wetlands.org/ At age 5 he had aquaria populated with red water mites, and was beginning to realize that different kinds of waters were inhabited by different kinds of animals; he did not find the mites in the ponds where he got sticklebacks. Three years later he was collecting butterflies, but had tired of them by the time he was 13, and made a reasoned choice to study aquatic Hemiptera. He made many bicycle trips to a favourite place, Wicken Fen, now a well-known nature preserve. On one occasion he noticed a grasshopper swimming in a pond near Cambridge. This observation led to his first publication in 1918, at age 15, a note of 128 words that exhibited in embryonic form a curiosity, a keenness of observation, and an approach to ecology that characterized much of his later work.

He continued his studies of aquatic insects, broadening his interest to behavior, especially the function of stridulation ("singing") in mating by corixids. However, Hutchinson was fascinated by many other interesting things, including embryology and genetics, but most of all in physiology, specifically endocrinology. He repeated Gudernatsch's experiment of feeding thyroid tissue to frog tadpoles, accelerating their metamorphosis.

Hutchinson's scientific development, in brief

So he emerged from the university a physiologist, not an ecologist, In connection with the thyroid experiments, he noticed that there was almost no information about endocrine function in invertebrates. With the aid of a Rockefeller Higher Education Fellowship he went in 1925 to the most obvious place to do such research, the Stazione Zoologica in Naples. Eventually, because of a shortage of experimental animals, he gave up the project. He wrote "So much for my hope of establishing invertebrate endocrinology". His idea about haemocyanin synthesis was confirmed by others nearly fifty years later, but a true endocrine function was not demonstrated.

In 1925 he answered an advertisement of a lectureship in zoology at the University of Witwatersrand and was hired. However, the situation was unstable and Hutchinson was dismissed from teaching. Before his contract expired he made full use of his time, working on the systematics of aquatic Hemiptera, studying Onychophora and becoming aware of current anthropological work in Africa on human evolution. He knew of a large number of lakes and pans, and together with two collaborators made an elaborate, ecologically oriented study of the biota of many of them. One of the collaborators was Grace Pickford, his first wife. Hutchinson thus got back on track in an ecological field. In 1977, 50 years after his dismissal, a graduate student laboratory in the Zoology Department of the University of Witwatersrand was named the G. Evelyn Hutchinson Research Laboratory.

He was accepted as a postdoctoral fellow at Yale University, and on the way to New Haven in 1928, he read two publications: Thienemann's "Die Binnengewässer Mitteleuropas", which showed him the possibilities of a systematic classification of lakes, and Elton's "Animal Ecology" with its ideas of functional community structure.

He described the effect in seven words: "I had, in fact, become a limnologist."

Hutchinson's scientific accomplishments, an overview

The published record of Hutchinson's research and thinking shows an early concentration on physical and chemical limnology with a progressive addition of new interests or expansion of existing interests, and an increasing content of biology. His thinking about on the biogeochemistry of the entire biosphere might be traced in part to chemical limnology, in evolutionary ecology to species interactions in the plankton. One cannot trace the course of this thinking entirely in his own papers, even those with multiple authorship, for some of it showed up only in papers by others.

At Yale Hutchinson developed courses in natural history, general ecology, limnology and biogeochemistry. He searched out lakes in the area, looking for suitable objects for research, fortunately finding Linsley Pond which provided excellent material for him and his students, G.A. Riley and E.S. Deevey, Jr. in particular. As word spread of his presence, graduate students with a specific interest in him began to go to New Haven. Until his retirement in 1971, Ph.D. degrees were finished under his direction at the rate of about one per year. Not all papers to which he was important bear his name. He rarely signed those derived from his students' Ph.D. dissertations.

During the early years after his arrival at Yale, Hutchinson published 27 papers based on earlier work done mostly in Africa. Most were systematic or distributional and had appeared by the time the first one on research actually done in New Haven was printed, an experimental study of magnesium tolerance of Daphnia (1932).

Hutchinson's limnological publication based on personally collected original field data started with two papers in 1937.

During the next four years, five highly creative papers appeared:

Several pioneering limnological papers appeared during the rest of the 1940s and early 1950s, including,

Paleolimnology became prominent in his work later,

Many of Hutchinson's publications after 1950 were not research papers. Some were essays on various topics, not all of them scientific, and these became relatively more frequent with time. Nevertheless, some of his best and most widely quoted scientific papers appeared in the next dozen years. Some are more generally ecological, with an evolutionary aspect. They are characterized by striking titles, widely imitated by later writers:

Img-animated smile Early in his career in New Haven Hutchinson had started to think about writing a detailed treatise on limnology, and he implemented the thought in 1941 by preparing an elaborate, illustrated set of lecture notes for a graduate course. The Treatise occupied much of his working time during the rest of his life. When he started to expand the notes into a manuscript he found that there was too much for one volume; three volumes were published in 1957, 1967 and 1975, and more were promised. The Treatise showed better than anything else that he was an excellent summarizer, synthesizer, and interpreter of masses of factual information. He specialized in finding patterns in data, and exceptions to normal conditions. Pattern recognition was especially important to him in paleolimnological work. He posted graphs of data of the chemical and biological components of sediment cores on his office wall. There he could study them from time to time until something "popped out".

Hutchinson's wife Margaret, whom he had married in late 1933, had been ill and began to develop symptoms of Alzheimer's disease. He devoted much time caring for her, greatly reducing the attention he could give to his work. She died in 1983. In 1985 he married Anne Twitty Goldsby whose presence made it possible for him to travel to Japan to receive the Kyoto prize in 1986. In failing health, he worked on Volume 4 of the Treatise until not long before his death. Anne died prematurely in December, 1990. He returned home to England for what was intended to be a visit. It was his last trip, ending on May 17, 1991. [tearful eye- animated]

Membership of societies and other organizations

Hutchinson was a member of:

Select publications of G.E. Hutchinson

Hutchinson, G.E.
1918. A swimming grasshopper. - Entomological Record and Journal of Variation. 30:138.
1928. The branchial gland of the Cephalopoda- a possible endocrine organ. Nature. 121:674-675.
Hutchinson, G.E., G.E. Pickford, and J.F.M. Schuurman.
1932. A contribution to the hydrobiology of pans and other inland waters of South Africa. Arch. Hydrobiol. 24:1-154.
Hutchinson, G.E.
1932. Experimental studies in ecology. I. The magnesium tolerance of Daphnüdae and its ecological significance. Int. Rev. ges. Hydrobiol. 28:90-108.
1936. The clear mirror. A pattern of life in Goa and in Indian Tibet. Cambridge Univ. Press. 191p.
1937 a. Limnological studies in Indian Tibet. Int. Rev, ges. Hydrobiol. 35:134-177.
1937 b. A contribution to the limnology of arid regions. Trans. Conn. Acad. Arts Sci. 33:47-132.
1938 a. Chemical stratification and lake morphology. Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. USA. 24:63-69.
1938 b. On the relation between the oxygen deficit and the productivity and typology of lakes. Int. Rev. ges. Hydrobiol. 36:336-355.
1939. Ecological observations on the fishes of Kashmir and Indian Tibet. Ecol. Monogr. 9:142-182.
Hutchinson, G.E., E.S. Deevey and A. Wollack.
1939. The oxidation-reduction potentials of lake waters and their ecological significance. Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. US. 25:87-90.
Hutchinson, G.E., and A. Wollack.
1940. Studies on Connecticut lake sediments. II. Chemical analyses of a core from Linsley Pond, North Branford. Amer. J. Sci. 238:493-517.
Hutchinson, G.E.
1941. Limnological studies in Connecticut. IV. Mechanism of intermediary metabolism in stratified lakes. Ecol. Monogr. 11:21-60.
1943 a. Marginalia. American Scientist. 31:270.
1943 b. Thiamin in lake waters and aquatic organisms. Arch. Biochem. 2:143-150.
1944. Limnological studies in Connecticut. VII. A critical examination of the supposed relationship between phytoplankton periodicity and chemical changes in lake waters. Ecology. 25:3-26.
Hutchinson, G.E., and J.K. Setlow.
1946. Limnological studies in Connecticut. VIII. The niacin cycle in a small inland lake. Ecology. 27:13-22.
Hutchinson, G.E., and V.T. Bowen.
1947. A direct demonstration of the phosphorus cycle in a small lake. Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. US. 33:148-153.
Hutchinson, G.E.
1950. Limnological studies of Connecticut. IX. A quantitative radio-chemical study of the phosphorus cycle in Linsley Pond. Ecology. 31:194-203.
1951. Copepodology for the ornithologist. Ecology. 32:571-577.
1953 a. The concept of pattern in ecology. Proc. Acad. Natur. Sci. Phila. 105:1-12.
1953 b. The itinerant ivory tower. Yale University Press.
Hutchinson, G.E., R. Patrick, and E.S. Deevey.
1956. Sediments of Lake Patzcuaro, Michoacan, Mexico. Bull. Geol. Soc. Amer. 67:1491-1504.
Hutchinson, G.E.
1957 a. A treatise on limnology, v. 1. Geography, Physics and Chemistry. Wiley. 1015p.
1957 b. Concluding remarks- Cold Spring Harbor Symposia on Quantitative Biology. 22:415-427. Reprinted in 1991: Classics in Theoretical Biology. Bull. of Math. Biol. 53:193-213.
1959 a. Homage to Santa Rosalia or Why are there so many kinds of animals? Amer. Nat. 93:145-159.
1959 b. Il concetto moderno di niccia ecologica. Mem. Ist. Ital. Idrobiol. 11:9-22.
1961. The paradox of the plankton. Amer. Nat. 95:137-140.
1962. The enchanted voyage and other studies. Yale University Press.
Hutchinson, G.E., and U.M. Cowgill.
1963. Chemical examination of a core from Lake Zeribar, Iran. Science. 140:67-69.
Hutchinson, G.E.
1965. The ecological theater and the evolutionary play. Yale University Press. 139p.
1967. A treatise on limnology, v. 2. Introduction to lake biology and the limnoplankton. Wiley. 1048p.
1970. (ed.) Ianula: An account of the history and development of the Lago di Monterosi, Latium, Italy. Trans. Amer. Philos. Soc. 60(4):178p.
Botkin, D.B., P.A. Jordan, A.S. Dominski, H.S. Lowendorf, and G.E. Hutchinson.
1973. Sodium dynamics in a northern ecosystem. Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. USA. 70:2745-2748.
Hutchinson, G.E.
1975. A treatise on limnology, v. 3. Limnological Botany. Wiley. 660p.
1978. An introduction to population ecology. Yale University Press.
1979. The kindly fruits of the earth. Recollections of an embryo ecologist. Yale University Press.
1987 a. The ecological niche. Physiology and Ecology Japan. 24:s03-s07.
1987 b. Keep walking- the lecture for the Kyoto Prize 1986. Physiology and Ecology Japan. 24:s81-s87.
1993. A treatise on limnology, v. 4. The Zoobenthos. Wiley. 964p.

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