James N. Layne

James N. Layne, Ph.D.

James N. Layne (1927-2017) was the first Director of Research (1967) at Archbold Biological Station and later became the first Executive Director (1976). Jim established the overarching template for the Station as a facility devoted to long-term ecological research of regional biota by staff and visiting scientists.

James N. Layne
Jim Layne

In 1967 Dr. James N. Layne was appointed as the first Director of Research at Archbold Biological Station by its founder, Richard Archbold. In the ensuing 26 years until retirement in 1993, Jim became the institutional cornerstone who first advanced Archbold's vision of the Station as a world-renowned ecological research, education, and conservation facility. Jim and his wife of 65 years Lois Layne (1929-2016) lived in nearby Lake Placid where they raised five daughters, four of whom still live in Highlands County, Florida.

Coming to Archbold from faculty positions at Southern Illinois University, University of Florida, and Cornell University, Jim was an established field vertebrate biologist specializing in mammals and reptiles. He taught the vertebrate ecology course at Cornell University for four years, and he was excited to survey, sample, and unravel the drivers of population dynamics in terrestrial vertebrates at Archbold. He also saw enormous potential for establishing a first-class research institute in the ecologically unique heartland of Florida.

As a research biologist he advanced the research footprint of Archbold in several ways. Right away, he initiated long-term, mark-and-recapture projects for all of the small and large mammal species at Archbold, and for Gopher Tortoises, snakes, and some birds. These studies provided influential data for understanding habitat associations and population fluctuations of vertebrates in Florida. He also contributed historically unique series of small mammal specimens to globally important museum vertebrate collections. Most important of these are the 6,000 small mammal specimens housed at the American Museum of Natural History prepared by Jim, or under his supervision. His resume lists a total of 120 scientific publications, including 65 about mammals, 23 birds, 14 reptiles, and 14 plant ecology.

On the larger picture, Jim established a strong and trusting working relationship with Richard Archbold, and together they steadily invested time and resources into converting the physical buildings, technical facilities, and unique native property into a modern research institute. As part of this investment, Jim had the foresight to establish rigorous, long-term monitoring programs and records of natural history observations for the Archbold property, including careful notes on geology, geography, land-use history, fire history, hydrology, climate, vegetation, and animal species. These essential data continue to inform some of Florida's critical environmental trends as well as contributing to many other scientific studies. In his shirt pocket he always had pens, pencils, and 3x5 cards to immediately record field observations – both his own and those of visiting scientists. Later in the same day, he transcribed the day’s notes to pages of archival paper using a Koh-I-Noor rapidograph pen filled with Higgins Engrossing Ink. Everyone at Archbold was taught to use these same Joseph Grinnell-initiated techniques with their own 3x5 cards, rapidograph pens, and archival 3-ring notebook paper. The James N. Layne Collection housed at Archbold includes correspondence, field notes, specimen catalogs, and other materials stored in 50 archival boxes, all accessible to scholars and the public.

From the beginning, Jim enlisted field support from research assistants and undergraduate research interns. Of particular importance over much of his time at Archbold was Chester (Chet) E. Winegarner, who meticulously collected data for the vast majority of Jim’s mammal-trapping studies. Fred Lohrer, who started in 1972 as an assistant for one of Jim's early research expansions, still works at the Station. For aspects of the Archbold biota that demanded other professional expertise to measure, Jim recruited outstanding scientists to conduct long-term research on birds (Glen Woolfenden, University of South Florida), plant ecology (Warren Abrahamson, Bucknell University) and the chemical ecology of terrestrial invertebrates (Tom Eisner, Cornell University). These scientists began bringing their undergraduate and graduate students to Archbold, building an ever-growing cadre of field biologists of all ages. Overall, the breadth and depth of research activities and long-term studies at Archbold blossomed and expanded under Jim’s studied oversight. His dedication to this as the primary mission of Archbold has been carried on ever since.

Following Richard Archbold’s death in 1976, Jim was appointed by the Archbold Expeditions Board as the Station’s first Executive Director. He assumed a full administrative burden and oversaw operations and facilities, including conversion of previously under-utilized spaces for laboratories and classrooms. Jim guided Archbold Biological Station through its transition into full Independence from the American Museum of Natural History, which culminated in 1981. To complement Layne’s own areas of expertise, he hired new, full-time research biologists in Entomology (Mark Deyrup) and Plant Ecology (Ronald Myers, later Eric Menges), and a series of Post-doctoral Fellows who conducted research on a variety of animal and plant groups, and on Archbold’s newly-acquired Lake Annie, where the early study became the basis for monthly limnological sampling that continues to the present.

Widely respected in the scientific community, Jim served as President of the American Society of Mammalogists, the Florida Academy of Sciences, and the Organization of Biological Field Stations. He was the first recipient (1976) of the C. Hart Merriam Award for outstanding research in mammalogy from the American Society of Mammalogists and he was a Medalist (1995) of the Florida Academy of Sciences.

Not content with a full research life, Jim was always active in Florida conservation. At the Station, constantly mindful of encroaching development, he was instrumental in encouraging Richard Archbold to purchase (1973) 2,800 acres of natural land bordering the Archbold west boundary, and he worked hard together with Frances and Page Hufty to secure the purchase (1983) of the Lake Annie Tract (240 acres). Elsewhere in Florida he conducted field surveys along the Ocklawaha River for the Florida Defenders of the Environment campaign to stop construction of the Cross Florida Barge Canal. In 1973, the same year of the passage of the Endangered Species Act, Jim helped organize the Florida Committee on Rare and Endangered Species and served as Chairman of its Coordinating Committee. The six volumes of species life history accounts authored by this committee are still foundational for the conservation work of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and of the Florida Natural Areas Inventory. Jim served as a Trustee, or Director, for Florida Audubon Society, Florida Defenders of the Environment, Florida Chapter of The Nature Conservancy, and Florida Conservation Foundation.

Always the academic, Jim regularly turned a natural history question into a short lecture. Agency scientists and Florida Park Service biologists were frequently in his office discussing; the status of Florida wildlife species, sampling methods, how to reduce wild hog damage to park ecosystems, or the effects of fire on plant communities. “Whether driving with Jim in the scrub and ranchland of central Florida, or during extended conversations in his lab at the Station, Jim Layne was unwavering in sharing his knowledge and his passion about Florida’s plants, animals, and ecosystems,” says John Fitzpatrick, who became Archbold’s third Executive Director in 1988 and whom Layne mentored as a college student in 1972. Warren Abrahamson, recently retired from Bucknell University, notes that he was "grateful for Jim’s mentorship, encouragement, and support. I was able to commit to long-term studies at Archbold knowing that these studies could continue for decades with or without external funding. I was deeply impressed by Jim’s breadth of knowledge. Not only was he a top mammologist, he worked on reptiles and birds, as well as on plants. His knowledge of scrub plants and vegetation ecology exceeded that of most plant ecologists and botanists. There was never a trip to the field with Jim that I didn’t learn something fundamental to scrub ecology.” Mark Deyrup, Archbold's entomologist adds, "One of Jim Layne’s remarkable characteristics, as rare today as when he arrived 50 years ago, was his totally open approach to the natural world that he loved. If he went out one day to study kestrels, he might come back with new observations on the behavior of a species of lizard. He truly understood the place of opportunity in scientific exploration. If the abundance of a species of mouse changed in some unexpected way, this did not bother him in the least. Jim Layne always valued reality over theory. In his alert and respectful attention to the natural world Jim Layne was a model to us all."

The living legacy of Dr. James Layne still thrives at Archbold Biological Station in the myriad studies he initiated that continue to this day, in the respect for deep ecological knowledge that he instilled in all those who followed, in the enduring facilities, in the legions of students he inspired, and in the evolving mission of the Station as a vital force for science, education, conservation, and for good.

See also: Lohrer, F.E., and R.L. Turner. 2017. In memoriam: James Nathaniel Layne (16 May 1926–10 June 2017). Florida Scientist 80:172-176. 

Fred Lohrer, with contributions from John Fitzpatrick, Hilary Swain, Warren Abrahamson, and Joe Gentili. June 15th 2017