|Eugene Pleasants Odum|
September 17, 1913|
Newport, New Hampshire, USA
|Died||August 10, 2002
Athens, Georgia, USA
|Fields||ecologist, mathematician, natural philosopher, and systems ecologist|
|Institutions||University of Georgia|
|Alma mater||University of Illinois (Ph.D.)|
|Known for||pioneering the concept of the ecosystem; the interdependence of divergent ecosystems as the basis of how the earth functions|
Eugene Pleasants Odum (September 17, 1913 – August 10, 2002) was an American biologist at the University of Georgia known for his pioneering work on ecosystem ecology. He and Howard T. Odum wrote the popular ecology textbook Fundamentals of Ecology, published in 1953. Odum School of Ecology is named in his honor.
Son of the sociologist, Howard W. Odum, and brother of the ecologist Howard T. Odum, E.P. Odum credited his father for imparting to him a holistic approach to looking at things. When contemplating his advanced education, he rejected both the University of Michigan and Cornell University, as he did not feel that this holism was embodied in their approach to their biology departments. Instead, he chose the Graduate Department of Zoology at the University of Illinois where he earned his doctorate degree. There Odum was a student of Victor Shelford whose efforts led to the establishment of The Nature Conservancy.
Upon his graduation, Odum took up a teaching position in the University of Georgia in 1940. In the late 1940s, while serving on the University's biology faculty committee, which was then drawing up a new curriculum, he perceived an urgent need to incorporate the subject of ecology when he found that his colleagues generally did not know what ecology (in its own right) might be.
He had one son William with his wife Martha. Odum was very proud of Martha's accomplishment as an artist. She often painted landscapes when traveling with her husband across the US and overseas. William died in his 40s, but not before making important contributions to science while a faculty member at the University of Virginia.
In 2007 the Institute of Ecology, which Odum founded at the University of Georgia, became the Odum School of Ecology, the first stand-alone academic unit of a research university dedicated to ecology.
In the 1940s and 1950s, "ecology" was not yet a field of study that had been defined as a separate discipline. Even professional biologists seemed to Odum to be generally under-educated about how the Earth's ecological systems interact with one another. Odum brought forward the importance of ecology as a discipline that should be a fundamental dimension of the training of a biologist.
Odum adopted and developed further the term "ecosystem". Although sometimes said to have been coined by Raymond Lindeman in 1942, the term "ecosystem" first appeared in a 1935 publication by the British ecologist, Arthur Tansley, and had in 1930 been coined by Tansley's colleague, Roy Clapham. Before Odum, the ecology of specific organisms and environments had been studied on a more limited scale within individual sub-disciplines of biology. Many scientists doubted that it could be studied on a large scale, or as a discipline in itself.
Odum wrote a textbook on ecology with his brother, Howard Thomas Odum, a graduate student at Yale. The Odum brothers' book (first edition, 1953), Fundamentals of Ecology, was the only textbook in the field for about ten years. Among other things, the Odums explored how one natural system can interact with another.
While Odum did wish to influence the knowledge base and thinking of fellow biologists and of college and university students, his historical role was not as a promoter of public environmentalism as we now know it. However, his dedication in his 1963 book, Ecology, expressed that his father had inspired him to "seek more harmonious relationships between man and nature".
By 1970, when the first Earth Day was organized, Odum's conception of the living Earth as a global set of interlaced ecosystems became one of the key insights of the environmental movement that has since spread through the world. He was, however, an independent thinker who was at times, gently critical of the slogans and fashionable concepts of the environmentalist movement.
Odum's will stipulated that, after his death, his 26 acres (110,000 m2) on the Middle Oconee River in Athens, Ga. would be sold and developed according to plans he laid out before his death. He would often show friends and colleagues hand sketched plans for his vision of this green community. Plans included that over 50 percent of the property would be protected greenspace and walking trails, managed by the Oconee River Land Trust. Profits from the sale of the land would go to the Eugene and William Odum Ecology Fund, after $1 million is set aside for a professorial chair at UGA in Odum's name. The land was sold to builder John Willis Homes who is honoring Odum’s wishes at Beech Creek Preserve.
Ultimately, Odum's financial contributions were focused on not only the University of Georgia, but also the University of Virginia given his son's faculty appointment there, and the University of North Carolina where his father was a prolific scholar. Ultimately, his wealth—partly the product of book royalties—benefited those institutions that he respected.
- 1939. Variations in the heart rate of birds: a study in physiological ecology
- 1953. Fundamentals of Ecology. With Howard T. Odum.
- 1963. Ecology
- 1975. Ecology, the link between the natural and the social sciences
- 1983. Basic Ecology
- 1993. Ecology and Our Endangered Life Support Systems
- 1998. Ecological Vignettes: Ecological Approaches to Dealing with Human Predicament
- 2000. Essence of Place (co-authored with Martha Odum)
- Articles, a selection
- 1969. The Strategy of Ecosystem Development
- Comparison of population energy flow of a herbivorous and a deposit-feeding invertebrate in a salt marsh ecosystem (with Alfred E. Smalley)
- About Odum
- Rotabi, K. S. (2008). Ecological theory origin from natural to social science or vice versa? : A brief conceptual history for social work. Advances in Social Work, 8 (1), 113-123. (Online)
- Smith, S. & Mark, S. (2009). The Historical Roots of the Nature Conservancy in the Northwest Indiana/Chicagoland Region: From Science to Preservation. The South Shore Journal, 3. http://www.southshorejournal.org/index.php/issues/volume-3-2009/83-journals/vol-3-2009/75-the-historical-roots-of-the-nature-conservancy-in-the-northwest-indianachicagoland-region-from-science-to-preservation
- Marine, Tom (December 7, 2007). "Ecology school 'small with big ideas'". The Red and Black. The Red and Black Publishing Company. Retrieved 2008-03-25.
- Tansley AG (1935) The use and abuse of vegetational concepts and terms. Ecology 16, 284-307.
- "Beech Creek Preserve Official site". Retrieved 2008-03-25.
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