25 Oct. 2019 — 12:00 noon — WAG 316

Emily Hutcheson (University of Wisconsin)

“‘The first stage of the love-making’: Specimen Exchange, Taxonomy, and Ecology in a Transnational Algal Network, 1880–1930”

The modern concept of coral reefs as living, ecological units appears to be a by-product of the 1960s, coeval with the increase in environmental consciousness and the popularization of SCUBA diving technology. However, despite a focus on the geology of reefs in the historiography, the idea that coral reefs were richly populated ecosystems, with varied plant and animal associations that functioned in concert, was firmly in place by 1955, and can be seen in ecologists H. T. Odum and Eugene Odum’s well-known study of coral reefs, “Trophic Structure and Productivity of a Windward Reef Community on Eniwetok Atoll.” This chapter uncovers the antecedents of the idea of the living reef ecosystem, which are found in the correspondence and taxonomical work of a group of algologists (botanists who study algae). In the 1880s and 1890s, a number of women algologists created a self-organized network, through which they shared material specimens, classifications, advice, encouragement, and ideas. Their taxonomical work began to include considerations of ecological factors, and their collaborative publications in the early 1900s contain distinct ecological insights into the living conditions, biotic and abiotic, of algae in, on, and around coral reefs. Through analyzing the work of the self-organized network, I aim to chronicle how ecology grew out of taxonomy in the realm of marine botany, rather than as a science distinctly separate from it.


Emily Hutcheson is a doctoral candidate in History of Science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She holds an MA in the History of Science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, an MA in History and Philosophy of Science from Florida State University, and a BA in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from Yale University. Her dissertation on the history of coral reef science traces how, between 1880 and 1930, reefs came to be seen as living communities through the work of a self-organized network of scientists that included many botanists.