Ecology Thrives at UGA

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Eugene Odum: A Force of Nature
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Winter 2008
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Ecology Thrives at UGA

Eugene Odum: A Force of Nature

by Anisa S. Jimenez

Fundamentals of Ecology Eugene P. Odum was attracted to ecology, he said, because it is “a bridge between man and nature.” Odum went on to serve as ecology’s steward, encouraging a holistic view of the science and fostering interdisciplinary research.

An avid ornithologist, much of his early research focused on birds. Odum biographer Betty Jean Craige noted that his “keen ear enabled him to identify almost any bird.” His research interests soon expanded and, together with his brother Howard, he published a groundbreaking, award-winning paper on coral reefs that demonstrated the symbiosis between corals and algae. Over his long research career he amassed numerous other awards as well, including ecology’s highest honors—France’s Prix de l’Institut de la Vie and Sweden’s Crafoord Prize (known as the “Ecology Nobel Prize”). Odum also influenced policymakers. For example, he helped gain support for the Coastal Marshlands Protection Act by making Georgians aware of the value of protecting wetlands.

That was just one of his many and far-reaching contributions to society. “We cannot overestimate the value of Dr. Odum’s work in making spaceship Earth a better place for us all,” said President Jimmy Carter upon presenting him with the Tyler Ecology Award in 1977. Odum is credited with making the term “ecosystem” a household word, thus helping to implant ecological issues into the American psyche, and he literally wrote the book on ecology. His textbook Fundamentals of Ecology—the first of its kind—was originally published in 1953. Now in its fifth edition, it is also being translated into its eleventh language.

“This book reflects Gene’s great legacy of holistic thinking. He was able to see the big picture, not just organisms or streams but the entire ecosystem.”
- Gary Barrett

Fundamentals of Ecology is still an international bestseller said coauthor and UGA Odum Professor of Ecology Gary W. Barrett. “This book reflects Gene’s great legacy of holistic thinking. He was able to see the big picture, not just organisms or streams but the entire ecosystem.”

In 1951, Odum secured a grant from the Atomic Energy Commission that would initiate a program of long-term ecological research at its Savannah River nuclear facility, thus paving the way for UGA’s Savannah River Ecological Laboratory in Aiken, S.C. Also in the 1950s, he led development of UGA’s Marine Institute on Sapelo Island, off the Georgia coast. But many consider his greatest bequest to be UGA’s Institute of Ecology, which he founded in 1961 and which now is the first stand-alone school of ecology in the nation.

For more information about Eugene Odum, read his biography, Eugene Odum, Ecosystem Ecologist and Environmentalist by Betty Jean Craige, professor of comparative literature and director of UGA’s Center for Humanities and Arts, published by UGA Press.


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