A Bibliographical Introduction to Famous Ecologists

Edited by David Gibson


Ecology, the study of organisms and their interactions with the environment, stands as a discipline on the shoulders of its pioneering scientists. Scholarly interest in ecology thrives by acknowledging the accomplishments and groundbreaking insights of these famous ecologists.

This page features a curated collection of annotated bibliographies of celebrated ecologists drawn from Oxford Bibliographies in Ecology, designed to help scholars appreciate the development of our discipline. The following set of bibliographies is freely available to read, and other articles will be made available on a rotating basis. We are actively seeking to highlight more diverse ecologists in this collection, and would welcome ideas from the scholarly community. Please contact the Editors with any suggestions, and click here** to read a note on diversity in ecology from Editor in Chief David Gibson and the Editorial Board.

Rachel Carson

“Rachel Carson (1907–1964) was an American nature writer whose books played a major role in shaping and popularizing the modern environmental movement. She was […] a well-established nature writer when, in 1958, she began research on her fourth book, Silent Spring. It is difficult to overstate the impact of this book. In it, Carson offered both a pointed critique of the overuse of chemical pesticides and a compelling advocacy of ecological principles. […] Silent Spring has reverberated through decades of political and cultural debate.”

Charles Darwin

“Charles Robert Darwin (1809–1882) was a British naturalist best known for his work establishing the theory of organic evolution by means of natural selection. […] [His most famous work is] On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life, published in 1859. His scientific oeuvre is dominated by this book, but he subsequently published a number of important books that either extended or supported the theory set forth in 1859 including his reflections on human evolution.”

Charles Elton

“Charles Elton (1900–1991) was a towering figure in ecology in general and animal ecology in particular. Although there were antecedents, he was a chief architect of the concept of the pyramid of numbers and one of the inventors of the concepts of the food chain, food web, and ecological niche. He helped found the field of animal ecology.”

John Harper

“Professor John Lander Harper CBE, FRS (1925–2009) revolutionized plant ecology and had perhaps a greater impact on its development as a modern science than any other ecologist in the 20th century.”

G. Evelyn Hutchinson

“George Evelyn Hutchinson (1903–1991) was one of the foremost figures in ecology during the 20th century. […] He strongly advocated quantitative approaches to studying ecological problems. He is particularly known for revamping an existing concept, the ecological niche, into a more robust and explicit idea in which a species distribution is mapped onto axes of environmental variation.”

Aldo Leopold

“Aldo Leopold (1887–1948) is best known as the author of the conservation classic A Sand County Almanac, and Sketches Here and There (Leopold  1949, cited under Books). The Almanac was the culminating contribution of a forty-year career that altered the course of conservation history.”

Robert MacArthur

“In his short life (1930–1972), Robert MacArthur was a highly influential architect of modern ecology. He was, as much as anyone, responsible for bringing theoretical population biology into mainstream ecology at a time when many empirical ecologists were openly hostile to theory.”

Eugene & Howard Odum

“Eugene P. (1913–2002) and Howard T. (1924–2002) Odum were leading figures in the development of ecosystem ecology after the Second World War.”

Sir Arthur Tansley

“Arthur George Tansley (1871–1955) was one of the most eminent ecologists of the 20th century and was key to the discipline’s professionalization. […] In 1935, he introduced what would become one of his science’s most fundamental and influential terms, the ‘ecosystem.'”

** The scholars represented in this collection are almost all white males from North America or Europe. While this imbalance reflects wider biases in science involving gender, race, ethnicity, and residence in the global North versus South, our Editorial Board recognizes that publications like Oxford Bibliographies in Ecology can be important avenues for promoting diversity and inclusion in our field. We are interested in the important question of how traditional biases have affected the development of ecology as a discipline –  how they have affected not just how we answer questions, but what questions we ask in the first place. Going forward, we hope to be able to address such questions, while at the same time renewing our efforts to seek articles from and about under-represented groups, to better reflect what we view as a field that can only be made stronger as it grows more vibrant, diverse, and inclusive.


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