Orie Loucks, Ecologist Effecting Change, 1931-2016

Orie L. Loucks, October 2, 1931 – September 10, 2016
This brief profile is based, in large part, on notes by Dennis Knight from an oral history interview with Orie Loucks on August 7, 2013, at the 98th meeting of ESA in Minneapolis. Full obituary here.

Orie Loucks grew up on a southern Ontario farm, where he attended a country school with two grades per room. Although he had no role models in science, his father taught him to respect the forest, especially the old growth. He went on to study forestry at the University of Toronto, where Angus Hills, soil surveyer for Ontario Department of Forest, provided his introduction to ecology. However, developing a career on ecology in 1952-53 required financial support.

Entomologist Dr. Carl Atwood was the main proponent for wilderness in Canada, and raised funds for a graduate student. Late in his undergraduate work (1949-53) at the University of Toronto, Orie received this funding to study forests in Canadian wilderness areas (Basswood Lake, Quetico Provincial Park). Orie developed an M.S. degree out of the project.

After obtaining his M.S. degree in 1955, Orie worked for the Canadian Forestry Service in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. They encouraged him to pursue graduate work, and he went to the University of Wisconsin in 1957, where he worked with John Curtis and Grant Cottam. He had an interest in vegetation patterns caused by topographic control, moisture, and nutrients and appreciated the Wisconsin School’s quantitative approach. He wrote a Ph.D. dissertation in May 1960, “Environmental and Phytosociological Ordination of a Regional Forest Vegetation,” for which he received ESA’s George Mercer Award in 1964.

In 1962, the University of Wisconsin approached him to fill the faculty position of John Curtis, his mentor, who had just died. He remained at Wisconsin until 1978. When Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring was published, it resonated with him; he attended local citizen group meetings, to try to stop insecticide applications for mosquitoes. He believed there was insufficient examination of the risks at the time; this led to his involvement in the banning of DDT. This became his focus on ecology; “how ecology should serve the taxpayers,” and he shifted from a forest ecologist to a systems ecologist (with a more applied focus).

Orie Loucks was extensively involved with the International Biological Program at Wisconsin, and was also involved with urging Congress to increase NSF funding by $50 million, for ecological research based on models. He later wrote a book chapter on the history of IBP, in which he describes what was learned from the IBP biome studies. In the interview, he discusses IBP’s contribution as a major turning point for ecology, the start of the “Big Ecology” described later by Dave Coleman.

In 1978 he left Wisconsin to become the Science Director of The Institute of Ecology (TIE), which was then housed at the Holcomb Research Institute at Butler University. TIE relocated to Washington in 1983 (and disbanded shortly thereafter), but Orie stayed at Butler until he moved to Miami University in Ohio in 1989 as the first Ohio Environmental Scholar. He retired from Miami in 2002.

Throughout his career, Orie Loucks maintained a strong concern for assessing and working to correct environmental impacts, from his early forestry studies to his later concerns with pesticides and acid precipitation. A long-time member of ESA (since 1956), Orie Loucks served several ESA committees, especially the Applied Ecology Committee and the Certification Committee (1987-88 as Chair). From 1994-97, he was chair of the Vegetation Classification Committee. He was interested in the organization’s history and a great assistance to our work on this website.

Among the many students and others influenced by Dr. Orie Loucks were Roger Anderson, Barbara Bedford, Charles Canham, James Fralish, Joan Hett, Dennis Knight, Eric Menges, Bob Peet, Paul Risser, Vicky Watson, Jianguo Wu, and Joy Zedler.

Selected Contributions

Ordinating forest communities by means of environmental scalers and phytosociological indices. OL Loucks, Ecological Monographs 32:137-166. 1964.

A quantitative analysis of Wisconsin forest vegetation on the basis of plant function and gross morphology. DH Knight, OL Loucks – Ecology, 1969

Evolution of diversity, efficiency, and community stability. OL Loucks – American Zoologist, 1970

Site quality evaluation models for aspen (Populus tremuloides Michx.) in Wisconsin. JS Fralish, OL Loucks – Canadian Journal of Forest Research, 1975

A gradient analysis of southern Wisconsin forests. RK Peet, OL Loucks – Ecology, 1977

Emergence of research on agro-ecosystems. OL Loucks – Annual review of ecology and systematics, 1977

Air pollution threats to US national parks of the Great Lakes region. TV Armentano, OL Loucks – Environmental conservation, 1983

Catastrophic windthrow in the presettlement forests of Wisconsin. CD Canham, OL Loucks – Ecology, 1984

Forest response research in NAPAP*: Potentially successful linkage of policy and science. OL Loucks – Ecological Applications, 1992 (*National Acid Precipitation Assessment Program)

From balance of nature to hierarchical patch dynamics: a paradigm shift in ecology. J Wu, OL Loucks – Quarterly review of biology, 1995

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