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Out on a Limn

On January 30, 1903, British-American zoologist George Evelyn Hutchinson was born. His growth as a preeminent ecologist was perhaps foreshadowed when the young Hutchinson set up his own aquarium “pond” with red water mites and other aquatic insects to observe their behaviour. And kept at it.

Hutchinson became an analyst of ecological niches and studied species diversity in ecosystems of varying sizes in fresh water ponds and lakes – from the dry lakes or pans of South Africa where he held an early post through high altitude lakes in India to the glacier-made lakes in the U.S. Midwest. He built up interest in the scientific study of fresh water ponds and lakes – limnology from the Greek limnē [lake]. Hutchinson wrote the first formal treatment that dealt extensively with geology, chemistry, and biology in discussing single ecosystems.

Arising naturally from his interest in and studies of sediments at the bottom of lakes, he dug even deeper into ancient limnology. As his study of lake sediments expanded through his students’ researches, Hutchinson was able to examine microfossils from lake bottom core samples. From these, not only was history of a lake revealed, but also the history of its life through past climate changes.

He observed freshwater niche ecosystems carefully and wrote about them throughout his life. He began at age 15 with his note about “A swimming grasshopper” he’d observed that was published in an entomology journal. Some of the last of his many works include his multi-volume A Treatise On Limnology, The Kindly Fruits Of The Earth – recollections of an embryo ecologist, and The Ecological Niche – physiology and ecology.

Hutchinson served as President of the American Society of Naturalists, the International Association for Theoretical and Applied Limnology (SIL), and the Limnological Society of America, today’s American Society of Limnology and Oceanography (ASLO).

Among the honours Hutchinson received are the Franklin Medal from the Franklin Institute; the Daniel Giraud Elliot Medal from the U.S. National Academy of Science for his work in several sciences; and the Kyoto Prize from the Inamori Foundation for founding the development of modern functional and evolutionary ecology.

The American Society of Limnology and Oceanography presents an annual G. Evelyn Hutchinson Award to recognize excellence in an aspect of limnology or oceanography. The University of Rochester is home of the Department of Biology’s Hutchinson Hall.

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