Pioneers in Chemical Ecology

Photo: Peggy Haine

Thomas Eisner (1929-2011)

Most biologists today are familiar with only a handful of model organisms, and more as fancy reagents than as organisms that need to solve real-world problems. Tom incorporated all of the latest advances in physics and analytical chemistry to make his natural history discoveries more understandable, more approachable; he had a knack for keeping his research going forward into the digital revolution without losing track of the analogue world that is our natural history legacy.

Ian T. Baldwin
Moving forward by looking backwards: Thomas Eisner and Chemical Ecology, Chemoecology (2011) 21:187-189

Jeffrey Harborne (1928-2002)

Jeffrey Harborne made a major contribution to the development of phytochemistry in the second half of the twentieth century, not only in terms of his original research in the area of anthocyanins and chemical ecology but also in his thorough and scholarly documentation of work on natural products...
In his research he collected together a considerable amount of data on the role of flavonoids in insect–plant interactions and he examined the relationship between anthocyanins and pollination ecology.

James R. Hanson
Obituary in Natural Products Research 2002, 19, 6-iii


Jerrold Meinwald (1927-2018)

Meinwald made fundamental discoveries related to how chemicals act as repellants and attractants between organisms. He and the late Thomas Eisner, a friend and colleague for 50 years, were credited with establishing the field of “chemical ecology” – the science that deals with the many ways animals, plants and microorganisms chemically interact.[...] Meinwald helped decipher the intricate chemical strategies that insects use for a variety of activities, including mating, locating food, protecting offspring and defending against attackers. Throughout their decades-long scientific partnership, Eisner conducted most of the biological experiments while Meinwald and his research group provided the essential chemical expertise.

Tom Fleischman
Cornell University Obituary

Dietrich Schneider (1919-2008)

One of the pioneers of modern olfactory research, he was the first to use electrophysiology to investigate the sense of smell, by directly recording the responses of single sensory neurons to the odour stimulus. His success depended crucially on his choice of the silk moth as experimental animal, because its males are very sensitive to the sexual attractant released by the females — as by now not only experts in the field but also every educated layman knows. This proved to be a model system for olfaction.

Karl-Ernst Kaissling, R.A. Steinbrecht
Obituary of the Association for Chemoreception Sciences


Ernst Stahl (1858-1919)

Stahl was among the first scientists who performed experiments in ecology which is best illustrated by his studies on the defenses of plants against herbivores...
He observed great variation in the efficiency of the various defenses against the different herbivores he studied, and he marveled at the rich diversity of mechanically and chemically mediated defenses in plants...
Stahl recognized that many morphological structures of vegetative and reproductive plant organs are understandable only from the point of view of plant–animal interactions, for instance, the relationship of flower shape to pollinators.

Thomas Hartmann
The lost origin of chemical ecology in the late 19th century, PNAS (2008) 105: 4541-4546