Richard B. “Dick” Root

Richard B. “Dick” Root

Richard B. “Dick” Root (1936-2013) was a distinguished ecologist and evolutionary biologist in the Department of Entomology at Cornell University. For 34 years he brought 16 graduate field ecology classes to Archbold Biological Station. Dick served on Archbold’s Scientific Advisory Board for 15 years and was invited to join Archbold’s Board of Trustees in 1998, serving for the next decade.

Dick Root, young Assistant Professor in the Department of Entomology at Cornell first visited Archbold in March 1968. The Station’s annual report notes that “The purpose of Dr. Root’s visit was to determine the feasibility of carrying out intensive investigations during the winter on the arthropod faunae associated with Asclepias spp. and various crucifers. These studies would supplement his summer investigations in Ithaca, N.Y. on the structure of arthropod communities. He found the Station well suited for studies ……….”

Jim Layne, recently arrived at Archbold from Cornell to be Director of Research, was greatly impressed with Dick, and encouraged him to think about the potential for further research and also for bringing students from Cornell for field classes. Dick went on to become one of the great ecological cornerstones of Archbold.

Over 34 years Dick and Peter Marks brought 16 graduate field ecology classes to Archbold, each a shining example of excellence in teaching. The full impact of these classes on the Station, and on student lives, is immeasurable. Whenever one goes to a professional meeting with “ARCHBOLD” on your name-tag, or in the title of one’s talk, invariably someone will greet you with the friendly introduction “well I went to Archbold with Dick Root”. Teaching field ecology just seemed intuitively obvious to Dick. Long before the terms were coined his students were learning by inquiry, working in cooperative groups, and conducting independent field research. All this in a wonderful spirit of student-faculty adventure and mutual respect. Long drives from Ithaca to Florida, in vans packed to the gunwales with students and “stuff”, established close bonds. Dick presided over well-lubricated gatherings in the Archbold attics combining science with music and philosophical conversation. He was quite dashing, with a flat cowboy hat, bundled in a serape, and with a ‘Clint Eastwood’ air about him.

Held in great esteem by the Archbold family, Dick served on our Scientific Advisory Board for 15 years, and was invited to join the Board in 1998, acting as trustee for the next decade. He helped guide Archbold through many transitions; encouraging the growth of research and education, increasing the value of conservation work, and the expansion from 5,000 acres to 20,000 acres including a 3000-head working cattle ranch. He recognized opportunities and anticipated pitfalls, created a vision, and built our reputation.

Dick Root understood instinctively what Archbold Biological Station is all about, what it represents, and where it can go. This was far beyond ecological knowledge, but rather his deeper sense of the human interaction between scientists, students and the place they study. He infused this understanding into our lives, and we in turn pass this on to those who follow. In the process he elevated us all forever.

Dick thought the world of Archbold, and Archbold thought the world of him.

Hilary Swain – Executive Director of Archbold Biological Station

See also:  Levin, S.L., P. L. Marks, and R.T. Paine. 2013. Resolution of Respect: Dick Root. Bulletin of the Ecological Society of America, July 1, 2013. doi: 10.1890/0012-9623-94.3.210.