ESA’s Fifth Decade: A Period of Growth

By Kiyoko Miyanishi
Reprinted from the ESA Bulletin, Vol 96(1), January 2015, pp 41-44.

ESA’s fifth decade (1956–1965) began with its membership standing at 1364. With the Membership Committee’s concerted efforts (such as scanning over 40 scientific journals to identify potential members and mailing out 5000 invitations each year at a cost of $500), membership increased to >3000 by the end of the decade. A number of ESA’s past presidents joined at this time: Dick Root (1956), Hal Mooney, and Gordon Orians (1958), Margaret Davis and Jerry Franklin (1959), Dennis Knight (1960), Gene Likens, Jim MacMahon, and Bob Paine (1961), and Paul Risser (1964). Some others who joined then and are still current members include Orie Loucks (1956), E. O. Wilson (1957), Ed Beals (1958), C. S. Holling and Charlie Krebs (1959), Bill Reiners (1960), Joe Connell, Lee Miller (1961), Michael Rosenzweig (1962), Paul Harcombe, E. C. Pielou, Don Shure, and Richard Waring (1964), Stephen Hubbell, Thomas Lovejoy, and Sam McNaughton (1965). Membership dues increased from $7.50 to $9.00 in 1959, following passage of a constitutional amendment making it possible to change dues without amending the constitution. Previously, the amount of the dues had been specified in the constitution.

As the membership grew, so did the size of meetings. Although ESA had been holding its annual meetings in late summer with AIBS since 1950, they continued throughout the fifth decade to organize ecological sessions at the AAAS December meetings as well. Also, the Western Section of ESA continued to hold annual meetings in June with the Pacific Division of AAAS. The programs and abstracts for ESA-organized sessions at all three meetings were published in the Bulletin. The Chair of the Committee on Meetings (name changed to the Program Committee in 1962) was responsible for putting together ESA’s scientific programs for both the AIBS and AAAS meetings; each meeting also had a Local Committee Chair to organize the field trips. At times, the size of ESA’s meetings with AIBS and AAAS were almost comparable in terms of numbers of abstracts. By the end of the decade, both ESA and AIBS were becoming concerned about the large meeting size (194 ecological talks in 1964 and 201 in 1965). The meetings then lasted 5 full days and had 2–4 concurrent sessions. In its 1964 annual report, the Program Committee wrote that the programs were expanding to the point where they might have to consider restricting the number of papers allowed for presentation. And at the 1965 annual meeting, the President reported that the almost exponential increase in the number of papers was resulting in “severe stress to the program committee and the membership at large. Serious consideration must be given to the idea of scheduling our annual meeting separately while continuing to hold paper sessions with AIBS and AAAS.” However, ESA continued holding its annual meetings with AIBS for another 1.5 decades. Perhaps one sign of the changing times was the demise of the Biologists’ Smoker social event which appeared for the last time in the 1958 annual meeting program.

Although for some time the call for abstracts had specified a maximum of 15 minutes for contributed talks and the majority of talks were converging on 15 minutes, some presenters continued to submit abstracts indicating presentation times ranging anywhere from 8 to 25 minutes. The meeting program dealt with this variability by not giving presentation times but simply listing the talks in their order of presentation within each session; thus talks in concurrent sessions were not synchronized. Then, for the first time, in 1963, the Program Chair (George Woodwell) introduced fixed 20-minute time slots for presentations in contributed sessions. However, it appeared to take a couple of years for the idea of such time scheduling to sink in with all presenters and presiders. Thus, the 1965 call for abstracts emphasized: “All papers in the general sessions are scheduled for 15 minutes plus 5 minutes discussion. Session chairmen are instructed to observe this scheduling rigorously and to assume that papers are given at published times. Please be sure that your paper can in fact be given in the time allowed.”

Another issue the Program Chair had to deal with was the length of abstracts. For decades, the call for papers each year had specified an abstract limit of 150 words. The call for the 1959 annual meeting in the 40(1) Bulletin warned: “As a result of past experience, abstracts exceeding 150 words will be omitted and only the title will be printed.” Despite such warnings, abstract submitters apparently continued to disregard the word limit with impunity; in 1965 the Program Chair and ESA Secretary were still complaining about the excessive amount of time they had to spend “editing lengthy and verbose abstracts.” That year, the call for papers stated succinctly and in bold type: “Abstracts in excess of 150 words will be cut or deleted.”

In 1958, a new type of session (Invited Paper Session) was added to the program of Symposia and Contributed Paper Sessions at annual meetings. In the March 1965 Bulletin, the Program Chair explained the distinction between this new session type and symposia, indicating that symposium papers were “comprehensive as opposed to detailed reports of research,” while invited sessions consisted of the usual reports of new research as in contributed sessions, but with the advantage of providing “a forum for extensive discussion of specialized topics.” The topic of the first Invited Session was Human Ecology, which had eight talks. The following year there was a combined Invited and Contributed Paper session on Biological Acoustics with nine talks. By the end of this decade, there were 3 Invited Paper Sessions among a total of 31 sessions and they comprised 14% of the 201 abstracts. However, at some point in the future, it appeared that such sessions faded from the meeting program, only to be resurrected in 2003 as Organized Oral Sessions.

At the end of the previous decade, ESA had only one geographically based section, the Western Section. A year after the 1955 constitutional change allowing members to petition for establishment of sections, the Section on Animal Behavior and Sociobiology was officially recognized. At that time, the standing Committee on Coordination had suggested two approaches for making the Society serve its members better: the first to attempt to organize subject matter sections on a planned basis in a variety of fields and the second to encourage more geographic sections. Neither of these suggestions appeared to be followed up during the ensuing decade. Meanwhile, the newly formed Animal Behavior and Sociobiology Section quickly became active and productive. By 1958 the Section had negotiated a jointly sponsored (with the American Society of Zoologists) new journal called “Animal Behavior.” By 1959 with a membership of ~500, the Section’s annual report stated that their rapid growth and success had resulted in a steady increase in the number of its sessions at the annual meeting “to a point which many feel is less than optimal” and that “[u]ndoubtedly, steps will have to be taken to keep the behavior program down to some reasonable limit.” Despite this caution, from 1960 to 1965, Section members dominated the annual meeting programs, comprising one-third or more of the contributed sessions, except for 1963 when the Section decided to meet instead with the International Congress of Zoology and to hold their annual business meeting at AAAS. In 1964 the Section surveyed its ~1200 members on the possibility of forming an independent society; with a 33% response rate, initial results were reported to favor this move 2:1. Thus, at the December 1964 AAAS meeting, the Section played a key role in the formation of the Animal Behavior Society whose constitution and by-laws were approved and accepted by ESA Council in August, 1965. Officers of the new society were the same as the Section officers. Meanwhile, the Section had been very active in organizing all of the contributed sessions in their field for the annual meetings, dealing with 30% or more of all the contributed abstracts. In the 1965 program issue of the Bulletin, the Program Chair noted that such Section-organized contributed sessions were more coherent and had better descriptive titles than the usual contributed sessions. For example, they had sessions titled Territorial and Parental Behavior, Learning Phenomena, Sexual Behavior, Orientation and Navigation, etc., compared with General Ecology, Plant Ecology, and Animal Ecology. By 1962, a second subject matter section, the Aquatic Ecology Section, was formed.

Through the fifth decade, the process of ESA elections continued to involve the Nominations Committee proposing a slate of unopposed candidates for all elected positions and casting a single unanimous vote for the full slate at each annual business meeting. This saved the Society from the necessity of preparing ballots for voting.

Eminent Ecologists honored during the fifth decade included Henry A. Gleason (1959), Charles S. Elton (1961), G.E. Hutchinson (1962), William S. Cooper (1963), and Paul B. Sears (1965). Among the Mercer Award winners were Eugene P. and Howard T. Odum (1956), Jerry S. Olson (1958), Robert MacArthur (1959), Harold A. Mooney and W. D. Billings (1962), Joseph H. Connell (1963), and Orie L. Loucks (1964). Incidentally, despite ESA having ~8% female members at this time, the call for nominations for the Mercer Award stated: “The award is made each year to a young man who, in the previous two years, has published an outstanding ecological paper.” Among the Resolutions of Respect were those for Sir Arthur Tansley (1956) and Edgar N. Transeau (1960). In the latter resolution, Paul Sears wrote that when Transeau was asked in 1937 if he thought there would be a general war, he had responded: “Of course, there will be. When men get guns to play with, they will soon begin to shoot each other.”

The 1956 annual report of the Publications Committee noted some complaints from members about the unjust treatment they had received at the hands of the editors (some things never change as one can see in the last Bulletin). At any rate, an investigation of these criticisms found that they were aimed at biology journals in general and not specifically at the ESA journals. Also, in 1957, ESA Executive Committee and Council had discussed whether or not abstracts should be printed at the beginning of articles in Ecology and Ecological Monographs. Several years later, in 1963, the Publications Committee reported that they had considered this suggestion of abstracts from Forest Stearns, Botany editor for Ecology, but felt “there was insufficient strength of opinion in favor of the move to warrant a change at this time.” Despite the committee’s admitted reluctance to adopt this change, beginning in Vol. 45(20) the following year, abstracts became part of all Ecology articles. This change did not occur in Ecological Monographs until 1969, in Vol. 39(4).

Despite the apparent resolution of the earlier disagreement between more activist-minded members of ESA and the majority of the membership, resulting in the formation in 1946 of a separate group that subsequently became The Nature Conservancy and the passage of Bylaw 18 in the 1955 revised constitution which clearly stated: “Lobbying or activities specifically designed to influence legislation are not among the objectives of the Society and no official group within the Society shall engage in such activity,” the issue refused to fade away. In its 1962 annual report, the special Committee on Applied Ecology recommended that the Society reconsider its policy of not taking a stand, as a society, on public matters of ecological importance, such as preservation of natural areas in general and specific sites in particular, and abuses of ecological knowledge. The response in 1964 was a change in the name of the Committee on Applied Ecology to the Public Affairs Committee; this newly appointed committee was charged with providing ESA with “a context for participation of the Ecological Society in public affairs” and “a mechanism for reacting promptly to requests from governmental and quasi-governmental agencies and others for the kinds of advice that ecologists are best qualified to give.”

The 1963 annual report from the ESA representative on the National Research Council indicated that the National Academy of Sciences had set up a committee on the status of research on natural resources at the request of President Kennedy. The committee held a number of panel meetings on various topics, one of which was “man’s effect on his climatic environment.” Also, that same year, the annual report of ESA’s Committee on Radioecology mentioned: “A new area of concern to the committee and one of special interest to all ecologists is the growing concern about the long term biological and environmental problems which might result from a nuclear war.”

From the beginning, the Bulletin had served as the administrative organ of communication to ESA’s membership, publishing meeting notices, programs, and abstracts, proceedings of business meetings, constitutional changes, listings of new members, etc. By 1965, the size of the Bulletin had grown to >200 pages in its four issues (March, June, September, December). At this time, the Council asked ESA members for their thoughts on how the Bulletin might better serve the Society, perhaps with a broadened scope and additional topics and areas of coverage.

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