Robert P. McIntosh
AIBS President's Citation Award 1998
Robert P. McIntosh, a Professor Emeritus at the University of Notre Dame, has dedicated his career, now spanning more than 50 years, to the study of ecology. His contributions are broad-ranging.
Through his research, he has helped define the science of ecology in a modern sense. Through his writing, he has added greatly to our understanding of the history of ecology. Concurrently, as editor of American Midland Naturalist, he has dedicated himself for much of his career to the science, craft, and business of the dissemination of scientific thought in the biological sciences as a whole. Although any one of these accomplishments might seem to be an adequate contribution, McIntosh also has stepped forward many times over the years to serve the organized societies of ecology and science when his unique insights and editorial skills were needed.
A look at his career is a tour that follows the maturation of ecology as a science. McIntosh, known to his friends as Mac, received his B.S. degree in 1942 from Lawrence College (now University) in Appleton, Wisconsin. He spent one summer during these early years collecting plants for Albert Fuller, Curator of Botany at the Milwaukee Public Museum. After military service from 1942 through 1945, he returned to Wisconsin and, aided by Fuller, became an instructor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 1946. From there he headed to the University of Wisconsin-Madison for graduate work. This was a defining turn because his advisor at Madison was John T. Curtis in what came to be called the Plant Ecology Laboratory in the Department of Biology.
Under Curtis's direction and as one of his first graduate students McIntosh studied the phytosociological aspects of Wisconsin's upland forests. For his Master's degree, which was granted in 1948, he studied relic pine stands in Wisconsin's Driftless Area. His Ph.D. dissertation, finished in 1950, was a broader study of the Upland Hardwood forest of southern Wisconsin. In 1951, McIntosh published, with Curtis, the first of a series of papers defining the "vegetational continuum" concept, which incorporated H. A. Gleason's "individualistic concept" and substantiated it for the first time by employing a large body of data. That paper and those that followed changed the way in which ecologists look at plant communities. In them were conceptual and methodological breakthroughs in the study of terrestrial plant ecology. Until this time, Frederic Clements's concept of inflexible organismic association had dominated the interpretation of plant ecology.
During the next eight years of college teaching, first at Middlebury College in Vermont and then at Vassar College in New York, McIntosh studied the forest cover of the Catskill Mountains. He left Vassar in 1958 for the University of Notre Dame. There he continued his research and writing in forest community ecology and ecological theory, was named to the editorial board of Ecology, and became an associate editor of Ecological Monographs. Also during this time, he was elected a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
In 1970, McIntosh was named editor of American Midland Naturalist at Notre Dame, a position that he still holds today. Since its founding in 1909, Midland has published papers covering broad areas of natural history. During its early years, as its name suggests, Midland's intended geographic scope was the American midlands. However, within ten years of its inception it had become North American in scope. Today it holds a unique place in the body of natural history periodicals. It is a house organ for neither the University of Notre Dame nor for any learned society. It stands alone, true to its founding editor's original purpose, as a vehicle for the dissemination of biological literature. McIntosh is in his 29th year as editor-a remarkable tenure in an editorial position. He has now surpassed Midland's founding editor, Julius A. Nieuwland, C.S.c., who served as editor for 25 years.
McIntosh has continued to accept other committee and editorial responsibilities throughout his time with Midland. He was Program Director for Ecology at the National Science Foundation from 1977 through 1978. From 1982 to 1985 he served as secretary of the Ecological Society of America. In 1987 he relinquished teaching and research responsibilities at Notre Dame, becoming a Professor Emeritus.
He continues as editor of Midland and, if anything, has become even more prolific in his research and writing about the theory and history of ecology. His book, The Background of Ecology (Cambridge University Press, 1986), offers a unique perspective on the field-a field that he has helped to shape and, therefore, that he is eminently qualified to review.