Charles Krebs (2009)

From an “Focus on Ecologists” maintained by the ESA Education Office about 2009-2011.


Full Name Charles Krebs
Degree Ph.D. 1962 (University of British Columbia)
Job Position Retired
Organization University of British Columbia
Department Department of Zoology
Professional Affiliation Academic
Research Discipline Population Biology
Research Habitat Forest
Research Organism Terrestrial vertebrates
Describe what you do and briefly describe the activities that your job encompasses Monitoring the ecological community in the boreal forest near Kluane Lake, southwestern Yukon
For each degree you’ve obtained, list the degree, field, and institution. 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.
Briefly describe your job path. 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.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 Thinker in Residence at the Institute of Applied Ecology in Canberra.
What challenges did you need to overcome? Public inertia about believing anything ecologists say
What’s one thing you hope to do in the future? Write a book on population cycles
How do you describe your job when you meet people at a party? Ecologist
What is your family background and what did they think of your career choice? Proper people went into Law or Medicine, not science.
Who or what inspired you to become a scientist (or other profession)? My 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.
Who currently inspires you? Adam Watson, Chris Dickman, Daniel Simberloff, David Lindenmayer, Paul Ehrlich
What is the most valuable advice a mentor gave you or that you would offer to someone who’d like to do the same job as you? Find an interesting problem and attack it experimentally in the field.
What would you like people to remember about your life as a scientist (or other profession)? He helped to educate the younger generation about the principles of ecology
How do you feel your work has contributed to society? 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.
Award Name ESA Eminent Ecologist Award
Year originally profiled. 2002

Updated 2009

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