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Environment and History

Charles Elton: Pioneer Conservation Biologist

Daniel Simberloff

Environment and History 18 (2012): 183-202. doi: 10.3197/096734012X13303670112731

Charles Elton is widely regarded as a key figure in the development of ecology as a science in the first half of the twentieth century, having contributed greatly to the concepts of the food web, the ecological niche and the pyramid of numbers, as well as to the study of population cycles, biological invasions and the notion that biological diversity confers ecological stability. To the extent that his contributions to conservation and conservation biology are recognised at all outside Great Britain, they are often seen as influenced by his long friendships with Aldo Leopold and Arthur Tansley. In fact, Elton's interest in conservation developed apace with his devotion to the scientific study of biological populations and communities and his contributions to conservation biology arose directly from his ecological research. In particular, he repeatedly stressed that ecological research demonstrated that nature reserves could not simply be established and protected but had to be managed in light of various dynamic processes that invariably arise within them. Conversely, he frequently adduced as one reason for nature reserves their usefulness for the study of ecological dynamics and interactions. Elton became so engaged in conservation activities that, despite a congenital impatience with committee work and administration, he heavily influenced the development of a British national policy on conservation, advised on the structures that would aid implementing this policy and served for seven years on a key committee established by this policy.

KEYWORDS: Aldo Leopold, Arthur Tansley, Charles Elton, conservation, ecology, introduced species


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