Abstract

Though they are often seen as foils for each other, ecology and agricultural science co-evolved. With shared roots in late nineteenth-century botany, ecologists and agronomists fostered important connections during the Progressive Era that have been largely overlooked despite a number of finely nuanced studies of ecology's origins. But if “applied ecology” once effectively meant agriculture, over the course of the first decades of the twentieth century the relationship between ecology and scientific agriculture grew strained. Agriculturists narrowed their focus to increasing yields, and ecologists sought to establish their discipline as a distinct theoretical science and so distanced themselves from its agricultural applications. By the end of World War I, the process of disciplinary specialization was well underway. In time the two disciplines diverged so completely that the once vital connections between them were obscured and forgotten.

The text of this article is only available as a PDF.

NOTES

2. Wes Jackson and Jon Piper,
“The Necessary Marriage between Ecology and Agriculture,”
Ecology
70
(
Dec.
1989
):
1591
93
.
3. Ronald C. Tobey,
Saving the Prairies: The Life Cycle of the Founding School of American Plant Ecology, 1895–1955
(
Berkeley
:
University of California Press
,
1981
),
60
63
.
4. Donald Worster,
Nature's Economy: A History of Ecological Ideas
, 2nd ed. (
New York
:
Cambridge University Press
,
1994
); Gregg Mitman,
The State of Nature: Ecology, Community, and American Social Thought, 1900–1950
(
Chicago
:
University of Chicago Press
,
1992
).
5. Robert McIntosh,
The Background of Ecology: Concept and Theory
(
New York
:
Cambridge University Press
,
1985
),
15
24
.
6. Sharon E. Kingsland,
The Evolution of American Ecology, 1890–2000
(
Baltimore
:
Johns Hopkins University Press
,
2005
),
5
,
63
,
97
.
7. McIntosh,
Background of Ecology
,
34
; Joel B. Hagen,
An Entangled Bank: The Origins of Ecosystem Ecology
(
New Brunswick
:
Rutgers University Press
,
1992
),
15
.
8. The classic account of late nineteenth-century botany is Andrew D. Rodgers,
American Botany, 1873–1892: Decades of Transition
(
Princeton
:
Princeton University Press
,
1944
). The fullest account of land-grant schools during the same period is Alan I Marcus,
Agricultural Science and the Quest for Legitimacy: Farmers, Agricultural Colleges, and Experiment Stations, 1870–1890
(
Ames
:
Iowa State University Press
,
1985
). For a contemporary's take on this transformation (and the rise of laboratory botany generally) see, William G. Farlow,
“The Change from the Old to the New Botany,”
Science
37
(
Jan.
17
,
1913
):
79
86
.
9. Farlow,
“Change from the Old to the New Botany,”
79
; Emanuel D. Rudolph,
“History of the Botanical Teaching Laboratory in the United States,”
American Journal of Botany
83
(
May
1996
):
663
65
.
10. Walter P. Taylor,
“What is Ecology and What Good Is It?”
Ecology
17
(
July
1936
):
333
; Paul B. Sears,
“Some Notes on the Ecology of Ecologists,”
Scientific Monthly
83
(
July
1956
):
22
;
“Proceedings of the Madison Botanical Congress,”
Botanical Gazette
(
Sept.
1893
):
353
. In 1895 W. F. Ganong objected to the decision made in Madison, claiming that “ecology” was a misleading choice and that it ought to be termed “phytobiology.” In a rejoinder appearing beneath his letter, the editors of the Botanical Gazette acknowledged “that ecology has as yet been little used, but it is rather because the subject matter has been little studied in this country than because the word is awkward or unintelligible.” See, Ganong,
“The Term Phytobiology,”
Botanical Gazette
(
Jan.
1895
):
38
.
11.
Proceedings of the Madison Botanical Congress: Madison, Wisconsin, August 23 and 24, 1893
(
Madison
:
Tracey, Gibbs and Co.
,
1894
),
35
38
. It is in some ways ironic that ecology was considered a branch of physiology since today physiology is generally considered quite different from ecology, evolution, and genetics. For more on this, see, McIntosh,
Background of Ecology
,
25
.
12. For more on Clements, see, Tobey,
Saving the Prairies
. For more on quadrats, see, Ibid.,
48
75
.
13. On the predictive possibilities of ecology, see, H. L. Shantz,
“Natural Vegetation as an Indicator of the Capabilities of Land for Crop Production in the Great Plains Area,”
Bulletin No. 201
(
Washington, DC
:
USDA, Bureau of Plant Industry
,
1911
); W. G. Waterman,
“Plant Ecology and Its Relation to Agriculture,”
Science
46
(
Sept.
7
,
1917
):
223
28
; Louis H. Pammel,
“Some Economic Phases of Botany,”
Science
53
(
Jan.
7
,
1921
); Henry C. Cowles,
“The Economic Trend of Botany,”
Science
41
(
Feb.
12
,
1915
):
223
29
. Tobey rightly pointed out Clements's desire to “devise methods whereby the federal government could annually predict the carrying capacity of the public domain” for range management. See, Tobey,
Saving the Prairies
,
205
.
14. Pammel's senior thesis was published as Pammel,
“On the Structure of the Testa of Several Leguminous Seeds,”
Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club
13
(
Feb.
1886
):
17
24
. For more on the biographical background of Pammel, see, Marjorie Conley Pohl,
“Louis H. Pammel: Pioneer Botanist,”
The Proceedings of the Iowa Academy of Science
92
(
Jan.
1985
):
1
50
.
15. Louis H. Pammel,
Flower Ecology
(
Carroll, Ia.
:
J. B. Hungerford
, nd). The date is actually somewhat in doubt. WorldCat puts it in 1890, but Pammel placed the publication in 1893. See, Pammel,
Ecology
(
Carroll, Ia.
:
J. B. Hungerford
,
1903
), preface. It was updated at least once, as some editions reference experiments conducted in 1896, but all of the editions I have seen cite sources dated after 1890, making an 1890 publication date unlikely. Indeed, there is no reason to doubt Pammel's claim that it was first published in 1893. See, Pammel,
Flower Ecology
, preface,
1
2
. See, also, Pammel,
“Charles Darwin on the Fertilization of Plants,”
Folder 4, Box 27,
Louis Hermann Pammel Papers
,
Iowa State University Archives
,
Ames, Iowa
(hereafter LHPP). Pammel's chapter titled
“Flowers and Their Unbidden Guests”
is a clear reference to Kerner von Mariluan's
Die schutzmittel der blüthen gegen unberufene gäste
(
Innsbruck, Austria
:
Wagner
,
1879
).
16. Pammel,
Flower Ecology
, preface, 21. For a clear example of Darwin's connection to agriculture, see, Charles Darwin,
The Variation of Plants and Animals under Domestication
, Vol.
1
(
New York
:
Orange Judd and Company
,
1868
).
17. Pammel,
Ecology
, preface. Pammel was well connected. Among those he corresponded with were Liberty Hyde Bailey, Charles Bessey, W. T. Hornaday, Barrington Moore, H. C. Russell, Charles Sargent, and Alfred Russell Wallace. He also was a prolific publisher producing a number of books and nearly seven hundred articles.
18. Ibid.,
291
94
. Drawing on the assessments of early ecologists like Paul Sears and Arthur Tansley, historians have long stressed Warming's influence. In Nature's Economy, for instance, Worster credited Warming with being “the transitional figure with whom ecology enters its modern, mature stage” (
202
). McIntosh similarly noted in The Background of Ecology that “Warming's seminal contributions to plant ecology and the priority of his work Plantesamund are probably the most widely asserted recognition of parentage for plant ecology by his contemporaries and subsequent commentators” (
21
). Of course, Warming was hardly the only influence on the development of ecology in America; as Tobey emphasized in Saving the Prairies, Oscar Drude played a more significant role in Clements's conception of ecology than did Warming (whose influence was greater in Cowles's approach to the science).
19. Pammel,
Ecology
,
332
; J. Burtt Davy, quoted in, Pammel,
The Iowa Geological Survey, Bulletin No. 4: The Weed Flora of Iowa
(
Des Moines
:
Iowa Geological Survey
,
1913
),
687
. Pammel was not the only member of the IAC staff concerned about conservation. Pammel recalled, for instance, that “Budd had read and frequently mentioned Prof. Marsh's ‘Man and Nature.’” See, Pammel,
“Prominent Men I Have Met: J. L. Budd,”
Folder 1, Box 76, LHPP. The passage of the Lacey Act (1900), which granted the USDA regulatory power over the intentional introduction of non-native species suggests that Pammel was not alone in this concern. See, Philip J. Pauly,
Biologists and the Promise of American Life: From Meriwether Lewis to Alfred Kinsey
(
Princeton
:
Princeton University Press
,
2000
),
80
.
20. Pammel,
Ecology
,
53
.
21. Pammel wore a number of hats. He was an elected member of numerous scientific and conservation societies including the British Ecological Society, the Ecological Society of America, the American Alpine Club, the Society of American Foresters, the Society of American Bacteriologists, the National Geographic Society, the National Agricultural Society, and the very exclusive Botanical Society of America. For Pammel's influence on Hitchcock, see, A. S. Hitchcock to Louis H. Pammel, Feb. 22, 1924, Folder 5a, Box 27, LHPP. Arthur L. Bakke,
“The Effect of City Smoke on Vegetation,”
Iowa Agricultural Experiment Station Bulletin No. 145
(
Oct.
1913
):
384
409
; George Washington Carver,
“A Few Hints to Southern Farmers,”
Southern Workman and Hampton School Record
(
Sept.
1899
). For more on Carver, see, Mark D. Hersey,
“Hints and Suggestions to Farmers: George Washington Carver and Rural Conservation in the South,”
Environmental History
11
(
Apr.
2006
):
239
68
.
22.
Proceedings of the Madison Botanical Congress
,
37
, emphasis mine; Joseph Grinnell,
“Review of Bulletin No. 15 of the US Department of Agriculture. Division of Biological Survey. ‘The Relation of Sparrows to Agriculture,’”
Condor
3
(
Nov.–Dec.
1901
):
190
.
23. B. E. Fernow,
“Applied Ecology,”
Science
(
Apr.
17
,
1903
):
605
607
.
24.
G. M. A.
,
“Review of Research Methods in Ecology,”
American Naturalist
40
(
Nov.
1906
):
805
; Charles Bessey to H. L. Shantz, Sept. 7, 1907, quoted in Richard A. Overfield,
“The Impact of the ‘New’ Botany on American Agriculture, 1880–1910,”
Technology and Culture
16
(
Apr.
1975
):
175
; Liberty Hyde Bailey,
The Principles of Agriculture: A Text-Book for Schools and Rural Societies
(
New York
:
MacMillan Company
,
1918
),
8
.
25. Pammel to Charles E. Bessey, Oct. 24, 1910, Folder 7a, Box 2, LHPP.
26. Frederick E. Clements,
“The Alpine Laboratory,”
Science
37
(
Feb.
28
,
1913
):
327
28
; Shantz,
“Natural Vegetation.”
Shantz had been a student of Clements's at Nebraska.
27. Charles Bessey,
“Some of the Next Steps in Botanical Science,”
Science
37
(
Jan.
3
,
1913
):
2
4
,
10
.
28. Cowles,
“The Economic Trend of Botany,”
224
26
.
29. Ibid.,
226
29
.
30. C. V. Piper,
“Botany in the Agricultural Colleges,”
Science
41
(
Feb.
5
,
1915
):
211
13
.
31. A. N. Hume,
“Botany in Agricultural Colleges,”
Science
41
(
Apr.
16
,
1915
):
575
77
.
32. Pammel,
“Training Modern Botanists,”
(Iowa State)
Alumnus
(
May
1914
):
5
8
; Waterman,
“Plant Ecology and Its Relation to Agriculture,”
227
.
33. For more on the formation of the ESA, see, Victor E. Shelford,
“The Organization of the Ecological Society of America, 1914–1919,”
Ecology
19
(
Jan.
1938
):
164
65
.
34. Pammel,
“Some Economic Phases of Botany,”
13
14
.
35. Ibid.,
12
,
15
.
36. Ibid.,
15
.
37. Barrington Moore,
“The Scope of Ecology,”
Ecology
1
(
Jan.
1920
):
4
; William Trelease,
“The Relation of Botany to Agriculture,”
Science
60
(
Aug.
1
,
1924
):
89
94
. There were few exceptions, but predictably, Pammel was among them. In “Some Ecological Notes on the Forests of South Eastern Iowa,” Pammel linked trees to soil types, undergrowth, and other plants that grew nearby. The authors drew few distinctions between forest and farm; humans and agriculture were part of the ecological community. Pammel and G. B. MacDonald,
“Some Ecological Notes on the Forests of South Eastern Iowa,”
nd, Folder 4, Box 21, LHPP.
38. David B. Danbom,
The Resisted Revolution: Urban America and the Industrialization of Agriculture, 1900–1930
(
Ames
:
Iowa State University Press
,
1979
); Deborah Fitzgerald,
Every Farm a Factory: The Industrial Ideal in American Agriculture
(
New Haven
:
Yale University Press
,
2003
.
39. See, for instance, M. F. P. Costelloe to C. F. Curtiss et al., Oct. 1917, Folder 2; C. F. Curtiss,
“Corn vs. Gasoline,”
Mar.
30
,
1927
, Folder 6, Box 1,
Charles F. Curtiss Papers
,
Iowa State University Archives
,
Ames, Iowa
(hereafter CCP).
40.
“Dean Curtiss Attributes Agricultural Depression to Use of Tractors, Trucks, and Automobiles,”
Farm Implement News
, nd, Folder 6, Box 1, CCP.
41. Pammel,
Ecology
,
332
39
,
289
; W. T. Hornaday to Pammel, July 8, 1924, Folder 9, Box 7; Pammel,
“The Preservation of Natural History Spots in Iowa,”
Folder 2, Box 38, LHPP.
42.
“Proceedings: Meetings of the Ecological Society of America at Toronto Meeting of December 28, 1921,”
Ecology
3
(
Apr.
1922
):
170
71
; Taylor,
“What is Ecology,”
335
; Sears,
“Botanists,”
732
.
43. L. W. R. Jackson,
“Review of Agricultural Ecology,”
Science
124
(
Nov.
23
,
1956
):
1034
; Ralph Borsodi,
“The Case Against Farming as Big Business,”
quoted in Wes Jackson,
New Roots for Agriculture
(
1980
; repr.,
Lincoln
:
University of Nebraska Press
,
1985
),
83
84
.
44. Steven Stoll,
Larding the Lean Earth: Soil and Society in Nineteenth-Century America
(
New York
:
Hill and Wang
,
2002
); Liberty Hyde Bailey,
The Holy Earth
(
New York
:
Charles Scribner and Sons
,
1915
),
11
.
45. Randal S. Beeman and James A. Pritchard,
A Green and Permanent Land: Ecology and Agriculture in the Twentieth Century
(
Lawrence
:
University Press of Kansas
,
2001
),
22
.
46. Paolo Palladino, for instance, has pointed out that theoretical biology was integral to the development of insecticides, see, Palladino,
Entomology, Ecology and Agriculture: The Making of Scientific Careers in North America, 1885–1985
(
Amsterdam
:
Harwood Academic Publishers
,
1996
).
Sustainability Institute
,
“Ecology and Agriculture—a Marriage, a Shotgun Wedding, or a Shoot-Out?”
The Donella Meadows Archive: Voice of a Global Citizen
, http://www.sustainer.org/dhm_archive/index.php?display_article=agricultureed (accessed Jan. 15, 2011); Jackson and Piper,
“Necessary Marriage,”
1591
93
.