One of the most prominent American biological scientists of his day, Stephen Forbes (1844-1930) is now recognized as an early champion of the emerging field of ecology. Dedicated to public service, he repeatedly demonstrated how ecology and environmental science could not only enlighten citizens but also effect economic change by improving resource use and management. His Lake as a Microcosm (1887), which stressed the holistic nature of the aquatic ecosystem, is widely hailed as a pioneering work. In this comprehensive biography, Robert A. Croker presents Forbes's work as a case study in the transition from nineteenth-century natural history to twentieth-century ecological science.
Forbes's interests were as varied as his experiences. Uninjured through more than twenty Civil War battles, he spent four months in confederate prisons, studying Greek to pass the time. After the war, he embarked on a career in medicine, then shifted to natural history. He held a number of academic and state positions, culminating in his appointment as chief of the Illinois Natural History Survey in 1917, his election to the National Academy of Sciences in 1918, and his selection as president of the Ecological Society of America in 1921. During his sixty-year career, he published more than 400 papers on entomology, ornithology, aquatic biology, and natural resource management. In many ways, his work anticipated concepts that gained attention years later, including ecological systems, resource partitioning, diffuse competition, competitive exclusion, population oscillations, and the biological control of pests.