Sir Arthur Tansley
- LAST REVIEWED: 19 May 2015
- LAST MODIFIED: 26 August 2013
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199830060-0094
- LAST REVIEWED: 19 May 2015
- LAST MODIFIED: 26 August 2013
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199830060-0094
Arthur George Tansley (b. 1871–d. 1955) was one of the 20th century’s most eminent ecologists and was key to the discipline’s professionalization. Knighted in 1950, Sir Arthur was known to friends as “A. G.” His networking acumen led to the creation of pathbreaking institutions such as the world’s first ecological organization, the British Ecological Society (BES; founded 1913) and the Nature Conservancy (founded 1949) of which he was the first chairman. He served as the first president of the BES and, in addition to editing the New Phytologist, a journal he founded in 1902, he acted as editor of the BES’s Journal of Ecology from 1917 to 1938. Tansley’s deepening interest in psychoanalysis during the Great War led him to write a highly regarded bestseller entitled The New Psychology and Its Relation to Life and he became an important popularizer of Freudian psychoanalysis. He resigned his Cambridge lectureship in order to pursue his professional interest in psychology though he continued to research and publish on ecological matters. In 1927, Tansley accepted the Sherardian Chair of Botany at Oxford. Besides completing in 1939 his magnum opus, The British Islands and Their Vegetation, he would continue to write for many audiences: most notably, educating students on the active study of ecology and urging the wider public to conserve Britain’s landscapes. Tansley, often described as a mixture of idealist and materialist, was a lucid contributor to debates on ecological and psychological terminology. In 1935, he introduced what would become one of his science’s most fundamental and influential terms, the “ecosystem.” Godwin 1977 (cited under Biographies and Obituaries) relates that Tansley, when asked to name the person who “would prove to have had the most lasting influence upon the world, unhesitatingly chose Freud.”
Besides Ayres 2012 (cited under Biographies and Obituaries), there is a dearth of comprehensive studies of Tansley’s life and work. Rather, Tansley features in a range of contextual overviews with different emphases, all scholarly and accessible. McIntosh 1985 is an informed introduction to Tansley in a broad history of ecological science. Sheail 1987 relates his key role in the creation of the British Ecological Society; Bocking 1997 gives a portrait of his scientific and political work on behalf of the Nature Conservancy. Boney 1991 illuminates Tansley’s struggle to reform the university botany curriculum. Hagen 1992 and Golley 1993 (cited under Correspondence) provide contrasting narratives on the history of the “ecosystem” concept, a term introduced by Tansley. Cameron and Forrester 1999 and Cameron and Forrester 2000 detail his relationship to Freud and trace his psychoanalytical networks. Anker 2001 gives Tansley a leading role in the establishment of ecology as a powerful tool in the making of the British Empire’s social order.
Anker, Peder. 2001. Imperial ecology: Environmental order in the British Empire, 1895–1945. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.
Ambitious, grounded in social studies of science. Tansley figures as one of a handful of select British imperialists, characterized as a mechanist in tension with the idealist and ultimately racist ecology of South African ecologists inspired by Jan Smuts.
Bocking, Stephen. 1997. Ecologists and environmental politics: A history of contemporary ecology. New Haven, CT: Yale Univ. Press.
Part 1 focuses on Great Britain and the origins of the Nature Conservancy.
Boney, Arthur. 1991. The “Tansley Manifesto” affair. New Phytologist 118:3–21.
A thorough examination of the mileu in which suggested curriculum reform was labeled “Botanical Bolshevism.”
Cameron, Laura, and John Forrester. 1999. A nice type of the English scientist: Tansley and Freud. History Workshop Journal 48:65–100.
Detailed account of the influence of a dream on the course of a man’s life.
Cameron, Laura, and John Forrester. 2000. Tansley’s psychoanalytic network: An episode out of the early history of psychoanalysis in England. Psychoanalysis and History 2.2: 189–256.
Psychoanalytical networks made up of eminent scientists formed around Tansley ranging from philosopher Frank Ramsey to the geophysicist Harold Jeffreys.
Hagen, Joel. 1992. An entangled bank: The origins of ecosystem ecology. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers Univ. Press.
Tansley’s proposal to refer to plant communities as “ecosystems” rather than as “organisms” is contextualized here in relation to the concept’s reception and development in American ecology.
McIntosh, Robert P. 1985. The background of ecology: Concept and theory. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.
Wide-ranging and critical guide to the emergence of ecology as a science.
Sheail, John. 1987. Seventy-five years in ecology: The British Ecological Society. Oxford: Blackwell.
Useful institutional history. Tansley’s place at the forefront of terrestrial plant ecology is highlighted along with his founding role in the Society.
Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.
How to Subscribe
Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.
Purchase an Ebook Version of This Article
Ebooks of the Oxford Bibliographies Online subject articles are available in North America via a number of retailers including Amazon, vitalsource, and more. Simply search on their sites for Oxford Bibliographies Online Research Guides and your desired subject article.
If you would like to purchase an eBook article and live outside North America please email firstname.lastname@example.org to express your interest.
- Accounting for Ecological Capital
- Allocation of Reproductive Resources in Plants
- Animals, Functional Morphology of
- Animals, Reproductive Allocation in
- Animals, Thermoregulation in
- Antarctic Environments and Ecology
- Applied Ecology
- Aquatic Conservation
- Aquatic Nutrient Cycling
- Archaea, Ecology of
- Assembly Models
- Bacterial Diversity in Freshwater
- Benthic Ecology
- Biodiversity and Ecosystem Functioning
- Biodiversity Patterns in Agricultural Systms
- Biological Chaos and Complex Dynamics
- Biome, Alpine
- Biome, Boreal
- Biome, Desert
- Biome, Grassland
- Biome, Savanna
- Biome, Tundra
- Biomes, African
- Biomes, East Asian
- Biomes, Mountain
- Biomes, North American
- Biomes, South Asian
- Bryophyte Ecology
- Butterfly Ecology
- Carson, Rachel
- Chemical Ecology
- Classification Analysis
- Coastal Dune Habitats
- Communities and Ecosystems, Indirect Effects in
- Communities, Top-Down and Bottom-Up Regulation of
- Community Concept, The
- Community Ecology
- Community Genetics
- Community Phenology
- Competition and Coexistence in Animal Communities
- Competition in Plant Communities
- Complexity Theory
- Conservation Biology
- Conservation Genetics
- Coral Reefs
- Darwin, Charles
- De-Glaciation, Ecology of
- Disease Ecology
- Drought as a Disturbance in Forests
- Early Explorers, The
- Earth’s Climate, The
- Eco-Evolutionary Dynamics
- Ecological Dynamics in Fragmented Landscapes
- Ecological Informatics
- Ecology, Microbial (Community)
- Ecosystem Engineers
- Ecosystem Multifunctionality
- Ecosystem Services
- Ecosystem Services, Conservation of
- Elton, Charles
- Endophytes, Fungal
- Energy Flow
- Environments, Extreme
- Ethics, Ecological
- Facilitation and the Organization of Communities
- Fern and Lycophyte Ecology
- Fire Ecology
- Food Webs
- Foraging Behavior, Implications of
- Foraging, Optimal
- Forests, Temperate Coniferous
- Forests, Temperate Deciduous
- Freshwater Invertebrate Ecology
- Genetic Considerations in Plant Ecological Restoration
- Genomics, Ecological
- Geographic Range
- Gleason, Henry
- Greig-Smith, Peter
- Gymnosperm Ecology
- Habitat Selection
- Harper, John L.
- Heavy Metal Tolerance
- Himalaya, Ecology of the
- Host-Parasitoid Interactions
- Human Ecology
- Human Ecology of the Andes
- Hutchinson, G. Evelyn
- Insect Ecology, Terrestrial
- Introductory Sources
- Invasive Species
- Island Biogeography Theory
- Island Biology
- Kin Selection
- Landscape Dynamics
- Landscape Ecology
- Laws, Ecological
- Legume-Rhizobium Symbiosis, The
- Leopold, Aldo
- Lichen Ecology
- Life History
- Literature, Ecology and
- MacArthur, Robert H.
- Mangrove Zone Ecology
- Marine Fisheries Management
- Mathematical Ecology
- Mating Systems
- Maximum Sustainable Yield
- Metabolic Scaling Theory
- Metacommunity Dynamics
- Metapopulations and Spatial Population Processes
- Mutualisms and Symbioses
- Mycorrhizal Ecology
- Natural History Tradition, The
- Networks, Ecological
- Niche Versus Neutral Models of Community Organization
- Nutrient Foraging in Plants
- Ordination Analysis
- Organic Agriculture, Ecology of
- Parental Care, Evolution of
- Patch Dynamics
- Phenotypic Selection
- Philosophy, Ecological
- Phylogenetics and Comparative Methods
- Physiological Ecology of Nutrient Acquisition in Animals
- Physiological Ecology of Photosynthesis
- Physiological Ecology of Water Balance in Terrestrial Anim...
- Plant Disease Epidemiology
- Plant Ecological Responses to Extreme Climatic Events
- Polar Regions
- Pollination Ecology
- Population Dynamics, Density-Dependence and Single-Species
- Population Dynamics, Methods in
- Population Fluctuations and Cycles
- Population Genetics
- Population Viability Analysis
- Populations and Communities, Dynamics of Age- and Stage-St...
- Predation and Community Organization
- Predator-Prey Interactions
- Reductionism Versus Holism
- Religion and Ecology
- Remote Sensing
- Restoration Ecology
- Ricketts, Edward Flanders Robb
- Seed Ecology
- Serpentine Soils
- Shelford, Victor
- Soil Biogeochemistry
- Soil Ecology
- Spatial Pattern Analysis
- Spatial Patterns of Species Biodiversity in Terrestrial En...
- Species Extinctions
- Species Responses to Climate Change
- Species-Area Relationships
- Stability and Ecosystem Resilience, A Below-Ground Perspec...
- Stoichiometry, Ecological
- Stream Ecology
- Systems Ecology
- Tansley, Sir Arthur
- Terrestrial Resource Limitation
- Thermal Ecology of Animals
- Tragedy of the Commons
- Trophic Levels
- Vegetation Classification
- Vegetation Mapping
- Weed Ecology
- Whittaker, Robert H.
- Wildlife Ecology