David William Goodall, 1914-2018

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David William Goodall, a distinguished Australian plant ecologist and member of the Ecological Society of America, ended his life on May 10, 2018, at age 104 in Switzerland. Goodall was born on April 4, 1914, in London, England and received his Ph.D. from Imperial College of Science and Technology, London, in 1941. In the 1940s he worked at the West African Cacao Research Station in Ghana, and in 1948 became Senior Lecturer in Plant Physiology at the University of Melbourne, Australia. He received a D.Sc. degree from the University of Melbourne in 1953. During the early 1950s he worked in Ghana and England, returning to Australia in 1956. From 1956-1961 he was the Director of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization’s (CSIRO) Tobacco Research Institute, and from 1961-1967 was senior principal research scientist at the CSIRO’s Division of Mathematics and Statistics in Perth, Australia.

Goodall was also professor of biological science at the University of California, Irvine (1967-1968) and professor of range science at Utah State University (1968-1974). At Utah he served as the Director of the Desert Biome project, which was part of the International Biological Program. He subsequently returned to Australia and was affiliated with the CSIRO until his retirement in 1979. In retirement he remained active to the very end of his life, not only working on research problems but also serving as editor-in-chief of Elsevier’s Ecosystems of the World, a comprehensive multi-volume reference series.

After he moved to Australia his interests shifted from plant physiology to ecology, and especially to the quantitative classification of vegetation. He was part of a group of pioneering ecologists that included Peter Greig-Smith and W. T. Williams, who in the 1950s turned ecology from a descriptive into a quantitative science. Goodall applied numerical analysis to ecological data and developed statistical methods for the study of plant communities. Starting in 1953 he published a series of articles on objective methods for the classification of vegetation, which laid the foundation for statistical plant ecology. Robert H. Whittaker built on the foundation laid by Goodall in his gradient analysis of vegetation, and the two were briefly colleagues at the University of California, Irvine. Subsequently, in the 1960s with the advent of computers, Goodall was able to undertake more data-intensive studies and was among the first to develop and advocate the use of simulation models in ecology.

In a special issue of Plant Ecology honoring Goodall’s work at the time of his 100th birthday in 2015, Peter Minchin and Jari Oksanen noted that the field he developed had blossomed into a “diverse and vibrant field of research, providing community ecologists with a range of tools that can be used to seek answers to questions about the structure, function, and dynamics of communities” (Plant Ecology 216: 641-644, quoted on p. 643). A more complete memorial and biography by H. Trevor Clifford is published in The Journal of Vegetation Science (see below).

His death has drawn international attention for his support of the right to die for people who are not terminally ill, as discussed in this New York Times obituary.


Other Obituaries and Memorials:

David W. Goodall (1914-2018): An ecologist of the century At Community Ecology, by Mucina Ladislav, Podani János, and Feoli Enrico, open access

In memoriam David William Goodall (4 April 1914 – 10 May 2018), by H. Trevor Clifford, The Journal of Vegetation Science.

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