The Crafoord Prizewinners 1987 Eugene P. Odum and Howard T. Odum
The brothers Eugene P. Odum and Howard T. Odum have initiated a new epoch in the history of ecology.
They have systematized existing knowledge within the area and, through their own research, have opened up new fields, principally by viewing our surroundings as more or less firmly linked habitats, termed ecosystems.
In this way they have laid a firm foundation for systems ecology, the study of how the different ecosystems are built up and how they function.
The Odums have also done pioneering work as teachers, many of the world´s most eminent ecologists having been students of one brother or the other.
The elder brother, Professor Eugene P. Odum, born in 1913 and active at the Institute of Ecology, University of Georgia, USA is the more established researcher. He early undertook the arrangement and systematization of the knowledge developed within the young discipline of ecological research largely after the second Worlds War. As early as 1953 there appeared his “Fundamentals of Ecology", in which, partly in collaboration with his brother Howard, he presented theoretical principles for the examination of ecosystems. In “Fundamentals of Ecology", the Odum´s firmly stress the importance of studying the whole, and not only individual parts of ecosystems. The book illustrates many concepts now very well known, for example competition, succession and production limiting factors such as the availability of nitrogen and phosphorus. The actual dynamics of an ecosystem, Eugene Odum has established, are best mapped by measuring the flow and turnover of energy and matter. Here he developed the teaching of P.L. Lindeman regarding efficiency in the nutrition chains, i.e. how efficiently nitrogen, phosphorus, magnesium, etc are transferred from one lever to another and how much is lost on the way. In a further work, Eugene Odum went on to describe the properties that mark the source of succession in nature. If one examines a meadow one can, by defining its various characteristics, determine at what stage in the succession it is living, and thus establish its age. A young meadow, for example, is rich in daisies and other annuals. In an older meadow that has not been cultivated, the number of perennials increases and bushes and small trees gain ground. Eventually the meadow becomes a wood. Knowledge of the different stages of development is, according to Eugene Odum, crucial for our understanding of the sensitivity and production potential of ecosystems. The succession properties which he has characterized have also assumed great practical significance for our decisions on the use of natural resources.