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Eugene Odum

Eugene Pleasants Odum
BornSeptember 17,1913
Newport, New Hampshire
DiedAugust 10,2002
Athens, GA, USA
Fieldmathematician, ecologist, natural philosopher, and systems ecologist
Known forpioneering the concept of the ecosystem; the interdependence of divergent ecosystems as the basis of how the earth was designed to function

Eugene Pleasants Odum (1913-2002) was an American scientist known for his pioneering work on ecosystem ecology.

Additional recommended knowledge

The average schoolchild of today knows that humans (along with other life forms) depend on adequate conditions of food, water, and shelter from inclement elements, for instance, and also that weather, geological, and biological factors (among others) are involved in the web of life that affords this environment. Further, the average schoolchild of today has heard the word "ecology." But back in the 1940s and 1950s, "ecology" was not yet a field of study that had been defined as a separate discipline. Even professional biologists seemed to Odum to be generally under-educated about how the Earth's ecological systems interact with one another. Odum brought forward the importance of ecology as a discipline that should be a fundamental dimension of the training of a biologist.

Life and work

Son of the sociologist, Howard W. Odum, and brother of Howard T. Odum, E.P Odum credited his father for imparting to him a holistic approach to looking at things. When contemplating his advanced education, he rejected both the University of Michigan and Cornell University, as he did not feel that this holism was embodied in their approach to their biology departments. Instead, he chose the Graduate Department of Zoology at the University of Illinois where he earned his doctorate degree. He had three children and two wives.

Upon his graduation, Odum took up a teaching position in the University of Georgia. In the late 1940s, while serving on the University's biology faculty committee, which was then drawing up a new curriculum, he perceived an urgent need to incorporate the subject of ecology when he found that his colleagues generally did not know what ecology (in its own right) might be.

Odum adopted and developed further the term "ecosystem". Although, sometimes said to have been coined by Raymond Lindeman in 1942, others assert that the term, "ecosystem", first appeared in a 1935 publication by the British ecologist, Arthur Tansley, and had in 1930 been coined by Tansley's colleague, Roy Clapham. Before Odum, the ecology of specific organisms and environments had been studied on a more limited scale within individual sub-disciplines of biology. Many scientists doubted that it could be studied on a large scale, or as a discipline in itself. Odum wrote a textbook on ecology with his brother, Howard Thomas Odum, a graduate student at Yale. The Odum brothers' book (first edition, 1953), Fundamentals of Ecology, was the only textbook in the field for about ten years. Among other things, the Odums explored how one natural system can interact with another. Their book has since been revised and expanded.

While Odum did wish to influence the knowledge base and thinking of fellow biologists, and college and university students, his historical role was not as a promoter of public environmentalism as we now know it. However, his dedication in his 1963 book, Ecology, expressed that his father had inspired him to "seek more harmonious relationships between man and nature". By 1970, when the first Earth Day was organized, Odum's conception of the living Earth as a global set of interlaced ecosystems became one of the key insights of the environmental movement that has since spread through the world. He was, however, an independent thinker who was at times, gently critical of the slogans and fashionable concepts of the environmentalist movement.

After he died, Odum's will stipulated that his 26-acres on the Middle Oconee River in Athens, Ga. would be sold, and developed according to plans he laid out before his death. The plans included that over 50 percent of the property would be protected greenspace and walking trails, managed by the Oconee River Land Trust. Profits from the sale of the land would go to the Eugene and William Odum Ecology Fund, after $1 million is set aside for a professorial chair at UGA in Odum's name. The land was sold to builder John Willis Homes who is honoring Dr. Odum’s wishes at Beech Creek Preserve [1].


  • Fundamentals of Ecology (with Howard Odum)
  • Ecology
  • Basic Ecology
  • Ecology and Our Endangered Life Support Systems
  • Ecological Vignettes: Ecological Approaches to Dealing with Human Predicament

Full-text online articles

  • The Strategy of Ecosystem Development
  • Comparison of population energy flow of a herviborous and a deposit-feeding invertebrate in a salt marsh ecosystem (with Alfred E. Smalley)
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Eugene_Odum". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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