by Piter Kehoma Boll
Today I will talk about an important figure of 20th Century’s ecology, sometimes described as the father of modern ecology.
George Evelyn Hutchinson was born on 30 January 1903 in Cambridge, England, to Evaline D. Hutchinson, a feminist and writer, and Arthur Hutchinson, a mineralogist. Due to his father’s influence, Hutchinson grew up surrounded by intellectuals and started to show interest in the natural world since the age of 5.
At the age of 8, Hutchinson was sent to Saint Faith’s, a private boys’ school in Cambridge. There, he and some friends organized the Cambridge Junior Natural History Society for field collecting and he began to collect insects, fossils and bird skins. His interest soon focused on water bugs, which he would continue to study for many years.
In 1917, Hutchinson started to study at Gresham’s School in Norfolk, which had a greater focus on science and history than most of the schools from that time. At the age of 15, he published his first paper about a swimming grasshopper.
From 1921 to 1925, he studied zoology at Cambridge University. There, he was more interested in individual work than in attending classes.
Soon after graduating, at the age of 22, Hutchinson traveled to Italy to work at the Stazione Ecologica in Naples studying the branchial gland of the octopus, as he believed that this gland was their endocrine gland. However, due to an octopus shortage, he was forced to end his research. While still in Italy, he answered an advertisement for a position at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa and got accepted. Against his parents’ advice, he moved to Johannesburg in 1926 but was fired after two years because he was considered an incompetent teacher. He was relieved from his duty until the expiration of his contract. He then used his free time to study South African water bugs. This led him to discover limnology, the study of freshwaters, that combined all of his interests. Soon he started to study the chemistry and biology of coastal lakes along with the US biologist Grace Pickford, whom he met at Cambridge.
In South Africa, Hutchinson also befriended Lancelot Hogben, a professor of zoology at the University of Cape Town. Hogben advised Hutchison to apply for a fellowship at Yale to learn with the renowned embryologist Ross Granville Harrison. The deadline had already passed, but Hutchinson applied anyway by transatlantic cable. Luckily, an instructorship became vacant in the Zoology Department of Yale. Due to the recommendation of the arachnologist Alexander Petrunkevitch, Hutchinson got a position as an instructor.
In 1931, Hutchinson married Grace Pickford in Cape Town. The next year, he joined the Yale North India Expedition and traveled to India to study the ecology of high-altitude lakes and compare them with the coastal lakes of South Africa.
In 1933, Hutchison divorced Grace and married his second wife, Margaret Seal, whom he met on a boat returning to England from India. They were married for fifty years, until her death from Alzheimer’s in 1983. In 1985, aged 82, Hutchinson married a much younger woman, the Haitian biologist Anne Twitty Goldsby, who care allowed him to continue traveling and working despite his failing health. She died prematurely in 1990.
Most of Hutchinson’s contributions to limnology are the result of his research at Linsley Pond in Connecticut. He studied chemical stratification, oxygen deficits, productivity and many other biogeochemical aspects. He is also credited as one of the first to use radioisotopes as tracers in field experiments. His ideas led to the development of systems ecology by H. T. Odum, one of his students.
Hutchinson died on 17 May, 1991, in London.
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Slobodkin LB; Slack NG. (1999) George Evelyn Hutchinson: 20th Century ecologist. Endeavour 23(1): 24–30. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0160-9327(99)01182-5
Wikipedia. G. Evelyn Hutchinson. Available at < https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/G._Evelyn_Hutchinson >. Access on January 29, 2019.