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Ecosystem Spokesman

On August 15, 1871, Sir Arthur George Tansley, was born. He grew from a field-tripping teenager on school nature outings to become one of England’s activist pioneers in the science of ecology.

Following studies in botany, physiology, zoology, and geology at Trinity College, Cambridge, Tansley eventually taught and researched at University College, London. Here he developed an inclusive concept of plant communities within their environmental systems of soils, hydrology, climate, and other biologic interaction.

Tansley founded and edited the New Phytologist, a magazine aimed at botanists who included the environment of their plant subject as part of each study. He aimed to provide a print forum for botanists who were in the early stages of research or had made a new observation that might spark others to further botanical research, partnerships, or society.

He joined a group of British botanists intent on expanding the inventory and description of British vegetation. When the group formed the British Ecological Society in 1913, Tansley served as its first president, then editor of its Journal of Ecology.

Having spent decades in the study of botanical environmental systems, Tansley introduced the working concept he called the “ecosystem.”

Eventually, as professor of Botany at Oxford, he was able to work with the departments of forestry and agriculture. Tansley helped establish the Nature Conservancy, the first ecological research council that was able not only to provide ecology advice to agencies but also to acquire and manage national nature reserves. He finally had the opportunity to encourage local and national government to attend the important issues of nature conservation and promote related scientific research. Today the conservancy has evolved into Natural England, the government’s advisor on the natural environment.

The dogged efforts of men and women like Tansley brought ecology issues into public awareness and inspired environmental protection legislation. From the seed of that one original research council, Scotland, Wales, and England now run their own national conservancy programs with ever-increasing public involvement, intergovernmental cooperative ventures, and international and offshore marine work.

Tansley’s many books ran through several editions. Over a century in print, the New Phytologist today is an international, online journal that continues to publish original plant science research. Tansley received the Linnean Society’s Gold Medal and an English knighthood for pioneering the modern ecological approach to nature conservation in England. The New Phytologist awards the Tansley Medal for excellence in plant science to an individual in early the career stage as recognition of outstanding contribution to plant science research.

B Bondar / Real World Content Advantage