A Centennial History of the Ecological Society of America: 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

A Centennial History of the Ecological Society of America

1st Edition

By Frank N. Egerton

CRC Press

289 pages | 1 Color Illus. | 87 B/W Illus.

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Hardback: 9781498700696
pub: 2015-05-20
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Celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2015, the Ecological Society of America (ESA) is the largest professional society devoted to the science of ecology. A Centennial History of the Ecological Society of America tells the story of ESA’s humble beginnings, growing from approximately 100 founding members and a modest publication of a few pages to a membership that exceeds 10,000 with half a dozen important journals, in print and online. It is the story of a successful scientific society that set an example for the world.

Beginning with the society's inception, the book describes the difficulties faced early on and ways in which it expanded. It tracks the society’s progress from the early years when female ecologists were few and inconspicuous to today when they are equally conspicuous as men, and there are as many or more female graduate students in ecology as male. ESA now has members from all around the world, and its journals contain contributions from around the world.

Like all sciences, ecology began with simple questions that led to fairly simple answers. But, as ecological sciences progressed, complexity emerged in both questions and answers and the ESA has documented that process along the way. This book describes important initiatives such as the International Biological Program, the Long Term Ecological Research Network, and establishing new journals, as well as recent programs including the National Ecological Observation Network. With numerous illustrations, photographs, charts, and diagrams, the book lets you explore the early beginnings of ESA as if in conversation with its founders and appreciate the early work and achievements in the field.


"Frank Egerton has done ESA a great service in pulling together all of this information about the history of the society in one place. Ecologists should read the book…to remember from whence we have come, future historians of science should use it as the starting point for detailed analyses of different branches of ecology, and the ESA should use it to help steer itself into its second century. On behalf of my fellow members of the ESA, I extend my thanks to Frank Egerton for collating and publishing our history."

—Aaron M. Ellison, Harvard University, in Ecology

"Overall, A Centennial History of the Ecological Society of America opens up many fascinating questions without answering them. It will take the work of many historians and ecologists to do so."

—Laura J. Martin, Harvard University, in The Quarterly Review of Biology

"The book by Professor Frank N. Egerton is both engaging and timely, published in the centennial year of the founding of the Ecological Society of America (ESA). This is a very useful book to introduce students - be they advanced undergraduates or graduate students - and their professors to their currently thriving and occasionally contentious field, and see how it developed and evolved over time.

Professor Egerton begins his narrative by posing questions regarding the choices that were made by the founding men (key women arise throughout the history as well). For example: should the society serve as a forum for the presentation of scientific papers at national meetings, or should its primary role be that of promoting field work?

The author takes a long view concerning the role of ecological scientists in being environmental advocates or staying close to the academic ideal of focusing on unbiased researchers reporting their findings. This forms one of the major themes that is interwoven throughout the eventful century he chronicles. He highlights some of the major large-scale research activities in the last century, ranging from Wisconsin, the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and on to the International Biological Program, The Long-term Ecological Research program, and more recently, the Sustainable Biosphere Initiative and the currently still-developing National Ecological Observatory Network. Some of the key participants, including important players behind the scenes, as it were, in major funding agencies such as the National Science Foundation, are also highlighted.

One book by itself cannot convey the entire sweep of historical and personal backgrounds of the "movers and shakers" in the field of ecology. While a series of more than 50 thumbnail sketches are presented of the most prominent ecologists in ESA history, Egerton’s bibliography helps the interested reader pursue these backgrounds more deeply. Personal favorites of this reviewer, such as the inimitable Howard T. Odum, can only begin to be appreciated in a brief overview, but that is what this book serves best as: an introductory view to a complex and intriguing field."

David C. Coleman, Distinguished Research Professor Emeritus, Odum School of Ecology, University of Georgia, Athens, GA 30602

Table of Contents

Ecological Society of America History: Introduction

1914 to 1929: Origins

1930 to 1944: Challenges

1945 to 1959: Expansion

1960 to 1974: The International Biological Program (IBP), The Institute of Ecology, and Others

1975 to 1989: The International Biological Program (Concluded), the Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) Network, Ecosystems, Profeßional Certification, and Gender

1990 to 2004: New Journals, the Sustainable Biosphere Initiative (SBI), Strategies for Education in Ecology, Development, and Sustainability (SEEDS), and More

2005 to 2015: A Sustainable Biosphere and the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON)

ESA History: Conclusions

Appendix A: Ecological Society of America (ESA) Officers

Appendix B: Seven of the ESA Awards

ESA Bibliography

About the Author

Frank N. Egerton studied biology as an undergraduate at Duke University, and then studied ecology for a year at North Carolina State University, Raleigh, before moving to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he earned a Ph.D. in history of science. He taught introductory biology at Boston University for three years, then spent four years at the Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation, Carnegie-Mellon University, where he edited Edward Lee Greene's Landmarks of Botanical History (2 vols., Stanford University Press, 1983). He moved to the University of Wisconsin-Parkside in 1970 and taught history of science and environmental history until he retired in 2005. He has also published Hewett Cottrell Watson: Victorian Plant Ecologist and Evolutionist (Ashgate, 2003) and Roots of Ecology: Antiquity to Haeckel (University of California Press, 2012). As an emeritus professor, he continues to write an online history of ecology in the ESA's quarterly Bulletin.

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
NATURE / Ecology
NATURE / Environmental Conservation & Protection
SCIENCE / Environmental Science
SCIENCE / Life Sciences / Evolution