Nature Blog Network

Friday, November 23, 2007

Kenneth Ernest Lee 1927-2007

It is with great sadness that the death of Dr. Ken Lee is reported. Born, raised and educated in New Zealand, he was at CSIRO in Australia since 1965. His research has focused on soil ecology and he was an expert biologist of earthworms, mites and enchytraeids. A well written obituary is published in the June issue of Biology and Fertility of Soils (hat tip to the Annelida Listserve). Here are some selected excerpts:

"Over the next 10 years he completed a monographic study of the earthworms of New Zealand, detailing the morphology, systematics and distribution of 178 native and 14 introduced species (The earthworm fauna of New Zealand. NZ DSIR Bulletin 130, 1959). Whilst global knowledge of earthworm taxa and distribution has developed since 1959, the theses advanced in this monograph still form the basis of our understanding of the relations between earthworms and soils. Just one native earthworm species has since been added to the New Zealand fauna!"

"His seminal book on earthworms, whilst highly relevant to his work and of great intellectual standing, was written at home ‘after hours’—an illustration of how his family supported his science."

"Whilst Charles Darwin’s 1881 book The formation of vegetable mould through the action of worms first documented the importance of earthworms and launched soil biology, it was Ken Lee who developed knowledge about earthworms, their ecology and relationship with soils and land use, making masterful contributions to soil zoology and to the understanding of the importance of biological contributions to soil processes on the global twentieth century scene. To quote from the Avant-propos written by Marcel Bouche for the 1985 book Earthworms: their ecology and relationships with soils and land use, “The work of K. E. Lee, which for the first time places earthworms on a world-wide scale in the economy of nature and humanity, takes up again a century later, in modern terms, the message of the great naturalist. By its critical analysis, its synthetic approach and its opening up of all relevant subjects that are accessible to rigorous understanding, this volume of K. E. Lee takes its place as the direct descendant of that of Charles Darwin”."

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