Frederic Clements

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Frederic Edward Clements
Born(1874-09-16)September 16, 1874
Lincoln, Nebraska, United States
DiedJuly 26, 1945(1945-07-26) (aged 70)
Alma materUniversity of Nebraska
Known forEcological succession
SpouseEdith Gertrude Schwartz
Scientific career
FieldsPlant ecology

Frederic Edward Clements (September 16, 1874 – July 26, 1945) was an American plant ecologist and pioneer in the study of plant ecology[2] and vegetation succession.[3]: 51 


Born in Lincoln, Nebraska, he studied botany at the University of Nebraska, graduating in 1894 and obtaining a doctorate in 1898. One of his teachers was botanist Charles Bessey, who inspired Clements to research topics such as microscopy, plant physiology, and laboratory experimentation.[4] He was also classmate of Willa Cather and Roscoe Pound. While at the University of Nebraska, he met Edith Gertrude Schwartz (1874–1971), also a botanist and ecologist, and they were married in 1899.[1][5]

In 1905 he was appointed full professor at the University of Nebraska, but left in 1907 to head the botany department at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. From 1917 to 1941 he was employed as an ecologist at the Carnegie Institution of Washington in Washington, D.C., where he was able to carry out dedicated ecological research.[1] While employed at Carnegie Institution of Washington, Clements faced criticism for his experiments conducted with the purpose of creating new plant species. Due to these criticisms and as well as personal conflicts with his co workers, in the 1920s the title of director of research in experimental taxonomy was given to Harvey Monroe Hall.[4]

During winter he worked at research stations in Tucson, Arizona, and Santa Barbara, California, while in the summer he performed fieldwork at the Carnegie Institution's Alpine Laboratory,[6] a research station in Englemann Canyon on the slopes of Pikes Peak, Colorado. During this time he worked alongside staff of the U.S. Soil Conservation Service. In addition to his field investigations, he carried out experimental work in the laboratory and greenhouse, both at the Pikes Peak station and at Santa Barbara.[1][7]

Theory of vegetation change to climax community[edit]

From his observations of the vegetation of Nebraska and the western United States, Clements developed one of the most influential theories of vegetation development. Vegetation composition does not represent a permanent condition but gradually changes with time. Clements suggested that the development of vegetation can be understood as a unidirectional sequence of stages resembling the development of an individual organism. After a complete or partial disturbance, vegetation grows back (under ideal conditions) towards a stable "climax state", which describes the vegetation best suited to the local conditions. Though any actual instance of vegetation might follow the ideal sequence towards stability, it can be interpreted in relation to that sequence, as a deviation from it due to non-ideal conditions.

In these studies, he and Roscoe Pound (who subsequently moved from ecology to legal scholarship) developed the widely-used method of sampling using quadrats around 1898.[8][9][10]

Clements's climax theory of vegetation dominated plant ecology during the first decades of the twentieth century, though it was criticized significantly by ecologists William Skinner Cooper, Henry Gleason and Arthur Tansley early on, and by Robert Whittaker mid-century, and largely fell out of favor.[11][2]

Community-unit view of vegetation types or plant communities[edit]

In his 1916 publication, Plant Succession, and his 1920 Plant Indicators, Clements metaphorically equated units of vegetation, (now called vegetation types or plant communities) with individual organisms.[12] He observed that some groups of species, which he called "formations", were repeatedly associated together.[12] He is frequently said to have believed that some species were dependent on the group, and the group on that species in an obligatory relationship.[12] However, this interpretation has been challenged by the argument that Clements did not assume mutual dependence as an organizing principle of formations or plant communities.[13] Clements observed little overlap in kinds of species from type to type, with many species confined to just a single type.[12] Some plants were widespread over vegetation types, but the areas of geographical overlap (ecotones) was narrow.[12] His view of a community as a distinct unit was challenged in 1926 by Henry Gleason, who viewed vegetation as a continuum, not a unit, with associations being merely coincidental, and that any support by observations or data of clusters of species as predicted by Clements's view was either an artifact of the observer's perception or a result of defective data analysis.[12][14]


Clements was an advocate of neo-Lamarckian evolution. Ecologist Arthur Tansley wrote that because of his support for Lamarckism, Clements "never seemed to give proper weight to the results of modern genetical research."[15]

Science historian Ronald C. Tobey has commented that:

[Clements] believed that plants and animals could acquire a wide variety and range of characteristics in their struggle to survive and adapt to their environment, and that these features were heritable. In the 1920s, he conducted experiments to transform plant species native to one ecological zone into a species adapted to another, higher, zone. Clements was quite convinced of the validity of his experiments, but this experimental Lamarckism fell to experimental disproof in the 1930s.[16]

Clements spent much time trying to demonstrate the inheritance of acquired traits in plants. By the late 1930s scientists had provided Darwinian explanations for the results of his transplant experiments.[17]


In 1903, the flower Clementsia rhodantha Rhodiola rhodantha ("Clements's rose flower"), a stonecrop, was named in honor of Frederic Clements.[18]


Among his works are:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d "Frederic E. Clements". University of California at Santa Barbara. Archived from the original on October 1, 2012. Retrieved June 28, 2015.
  2. ^ a b Kingsland, Sharon (2012). "Defining Ecology as a Science". In Real, Leslie A.; Brown, James H. (eds.). Foundations of Ecology: Classic Papers with Commentaries. University of Chicago Press. pp. 5–6. ISBN 978-0-226-18210-0. Clements was important also for publishing the first American textbook in ecology, Research Methods in Ecology (1905), which discussed the statistical and graphical analytical methods he and other Nebraskan ecologists developed from 1897 to 1905. His ecological theory rested on two ideas, the concept of ecological succession of plant formations, and the treatment of the plant community as a "complex organism" undergoing a life cycle and evolutionary history analogous to the individual organism. The formal presentation of his theory appeared in 1916 in his monumental study Plant Succession.
  3. ^ Humphrey, Harry Baker (1961). Makers of North American Botany. Ronald Press. ISBN 9780826045201. LCCN 61-18435.
  4. ^ a b Joel, Hagen (12 September 2020). "Frederic Edward Clements". Britannica. Retrieved February 20, 2021.
  5. ^ Clements, Edith S (1960). Adventures in Ecology. Hafner Publishing Company. ISBN 9780028429304.
  6. ^ ["" ""]. {{cite web}}: Check |url= value (help); Missing or empty |title= (help)
  7. ^ "History of Forest Service Research in the Central and Southern Rocky Mountain Regions, 1908-1975" (PDF). p. 17.
  8. ^ Pound, R.; Clements, F. E. (June 1898). "A method of determining the abundance of secondary species". Minnesota Botanical Studies. 2: 19–24.
  9. ^ Pound, R.; Clements, F. E. (1900). Phytogeography of Nebraska (Second ed.). Lincoln, Neb. Published by the Seminar. pp. 61–63.
  10. ^ Weaver, J. E. (November 1919). "The Quadrat Method in Teaching Ecology" (PDF). The Plant World. 21 (11): 267–283. Bibcode:1919JEcol...7..216A. doi:10.2307/2255282. JSTOR 43477708. S2CID 14481669.
  11. ^ Ampatzidis, Georgios; Ergazaki, Marida (2023-03-16). "Using the History of the Super-Organismic-Plant-Community Concept To Help Students Understand the Nature of Science". Science & Education. Bibcode:2023Sc&Ed.tmp...20A. doi:10.1007/s11191-023-00433-8. ISSN 0926-7220.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: bibcode (link)
  12. ^ a b c d e f Sawyer, John O.; Keeler-Wolf, Todd (1995). A Manual of California Vegetation. California Native Plant Society. ISBN 9780943460260.
  13. ^ Kirchhoff, Thomas (2020). "The myth of Frederic Clements's mutualistic organicism, or: On the necessity to distinguish different concepts of organicism". History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences. 42 (2): 24. doi:10.1007/s40656-020-00317-y. PMID 32519255. S2CID 256398149.
  14. ^ Tobey, Ronald C (1981). Saving the Prairies: The Life Cycle of the Founding School of American Plant Ecology, 1895–1955. University of California. ISBN 9780520043527.
  15. ^ Tansley, A. G. (1947). Obituary Notice: Frederic Edward Clements, 1874–1945. Journal of Ecology 34 (1): 194–196.
  16. ^ Tobey, Ronald C. (1981). Saving the Prairie: The Life Cycle of the Founding School of American Plant Ecology, 1895–1955. University of Chicago Press. p. 182. ISBN 0-520-04352-9
  17. ^ Hagen, Joel B. (1993). Clementsian Ecologists: The Internal Dynamics of a Research School. Osiris. Vol. 8, Research Schools: Historical Reappraisals. pp. 178–195.
  18. ^ Britton, N L; Rose, J N (1903). "Botanical contributions: New or noteworthy North American Crassulaceae". Bulletin of the New York Botanical Garden. 3: 3.
  19. ^ International Plant Names Index.  Clem.

External links[edit]