Tuesday, August 4, 2009 - 10:20 AM

SYMP 4-5: Frank Egler (1911-1996)

William Dritschilo, Author-Historian


Frank Egler was a mid-twentieth century plant ecologist with strong ideas about plant succession and strong conservation interests at a time that Clementsian ideas and pure research in natural areas dominated ecology. In his own estimation, Egler’s early efforts to bring attention to applied aspects of ecology were unsuccessful. Later efforts led to his being commended by the ESA. Why the change?


Egler’s strident personality resulted in his becoming an independent scholar, doing his research and writing from the seclusion of his estate in Connecticut, where he supported himself through consulting work and some family money. He became frustrated by how little attention his experiments with herbicides and rightofways received. He also became disillusioned by how ineffective ecologists were when asked to address what we today call environmental issues. By 1958, he no longer considered himself an ecologist. His association with and championing of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, however, gave him notoriety and influence. Suddenly, editors accepted papers written by Egler that they previously would have returned for revision—if not rejected outright. One previously rejected paper that was published in BioScience led to the journal being formally censured by the Entomological Society of America. Ecologists, with LaMont Cole in the lead, rallied to Egler’s support. Egler now had a respected (if not always welcome) voice on issues of professionalism and environmentalism in the ESA.

Egler’s career can be divided into before Silent Spring and after Silent Spring. He had not changed; Rachel Carson’s gift of communication with the public created the atmosphere that finally allowed him to exert influence on his profession.