Charles Krebs (2004)

From an “Ecologist Directory” maintained by the ESA Education Office about 2004-2005. Profile circa 2004.

Degree                                        Ph.D. 1962 (University of British Columbia)
Organization                              CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems

ESA Eminent Ecologist Award for 2002

charles_krebs_profileMy grandfather was a farmer, a hunter and a fisherman and he was probably a key influence on me very early on. I became interested in the polar regions while in high school, and read every book in the library about polar exploration. I was fortunate at age 16 to gain a summer job with the Fouke Fur Company in St Louis, which at that time took a team of about 25 workers to the Pribilof Islands of Alaska to assist in the fur seal harvesting industry on St. Paul Island. The seals were fascinating and the arctic foxes and sea birds equally so. By the time I finished high school this translated into an interest in wildlife management and I enrolled at the University of Minnesota in the B.S. program in wildlife management in 1954.

I studied Greek and Latin at St. Louis University High School, and became a heretic by not going into law or medicine but rather took a B.S. at the University of Minnesota in wildlife management in 1957. I moved to the University of British Columbia in 1957 to do a M.A. in Zoology in 1959 on reindeer population biology and a Ph.D. in Zoology in 1962 on lemming population dynamics. Learning to think about ecology has been a lifelong occupation and I appreciate the help from all my colleagues over the years and my graduate students and postdoctoral fellows.

I began writing an ecology textbook in the late 1960s to encapsulate the Eltonian tradition of ecology. My first edition was published in 1972 and the fifth edition last year. Once you begin writing textbooks, your life seems to flow from one revision to the next. In between I have managed to lead the Kluane Boreal Forest Ecosystem Project in the Yukon from 1986 to 1996, and that study is now published in a book from Oxford University Press. I have an on-going interest in ecological methods, and have published the second edition of this text in 1999, along with a set of computer programs for some of the standard ecological data analyses. I retired in 2002 and right now I am a visiting fellow at CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems in Canberra, where I am assisting the rodent ecology group which is trying to understand and control house mouse outbreaks in southeastern Australia and rice-field rat population numbers in southeast Asia. I feel strongly that ecologists in the end must use their science to better both the biosphere and the human condition, and so the key problems of the century are in the interface between pure and applied ecology.

At the University of Minnesota my mentors Bill Marshall in wildlife and Lloyd Smith in fisheries instilled a scientific approach to problems of wildlife and fisheries management. In 1956 I obtained a summer job working on salmon populations on the Alaska Peninsula and that further kindled my interest in northern ecosystems. I was fortunate to be able to go to the University of British Columbia in 1957 to do a M.A. degree in wildlife with Ian McTaggart Cowan, the leading wildlife ecologist in Canada at that time. Ian Cowan and Peter Larkin brought ecology to the fore as the key science underlying problems in resource management. I was able to do my M.A. thesis work on the reindeer herds of the Mackenzie Delta in the Northwest Territories. By the time I had completed my M.A. in 1959, John Tener of the Candian Wildlife Service had steered me toward the lemming problem in the Canadian arctic, and Dennis Chitty came from Oxford in 1959 to give a series of lectures on population cycles.

I began working on lemming cycles in the central Canadian arctic in 1959, and was fortunate to be able to spend the winter of 1960-61 at the Bureau of Animal Population in Oxford, working with Dennis Chitty and Charles Elton. I finished my Ph.D. in 1962 at the University of British Columbia and was able with Frank Pitelka’s assistance to obtain a Miller Postdoctoral at Berkeley in the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology to do population work on the California vole in the Berkeley Hills. All of these people had a major impact on my career and I am grateful to them for their advice and recommendations. My first job was at Indiana University in Bloomington, where I was fortunate to have an excellent group of graduate students. I moved back to the University of British Columbia in 1970, where Dennis Chitty, Tony Sinclair, Judy Myers, Carl Walters, and Jamie Smith have continually stimulated and challenged my thinking on all the major ecological questions.

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