Charles Sutherland Elton was born on 29 March 1900 at Withington, Manchester. His early interest in natural history was encouraged and directed by his elder brother Geoffrey. Elton was educated at Liverpool College and Oxford University, from which he graduated in zoology in 1922. He remained affiliated with Oxford University for his entire professional career.
In 1921, while still an undergraduate, he acted as an assistant to Julian Huxley on an Oxford University expedition to Spitsbergen, making an ecological survey of local animal life, a project he continued on three subsequent Arctic expeditions in 1923, 1924, and 1930. In 1927 he published his classic work Animal Ecology, outlining important principles of ecological studies such as food chains and the food cycle, the size of food, niches and the 'pyramid of numbers'. His Arctic experience led to a biological consultancy with the Hudson's Bay Company, 1926-1931 which enabled him to study fluctuations in the populations of furbearing animals, and this in turn led to research on the fluctuations in Britain's mouse and vole populations. In 1932 Elton established his Bureau of Animal Population at Oxford, which became a centre for the collection of data on variations in animal numbers and a research institute in terrestrial ecology. In the same year he became the founding editor of the Journal of Animal Ecology. In 1936 Oxford University appointed him Reader in Animal Ecology and Corpus Christi College elected him a Senior Research Fellow.
During the Second World War the Bureau was assigned to protect Britain's vital foodstuffs by finding effective methods of controlling rats, mice and rabbits, under the Agricultural Research Council. After the war Elton embarked on a comprehensive survey of animals and their interrelationships on Oxford University's Wytham estate, 1945-1967. On retirement he studied species diversity in tropical rainforests during several trips to tropical America. His interests in conservation and problems in the management of nature reserves led to much advisory work for the Nature Conservancy which was established in 1949. Among his later books were The Ecology of Invasions by Animals and Plants (1958) and The Pattern of Animal Communities (1966).
Elton received many honours and awards in recognition of his contribution to ecology. He was elected to the Fellowship of the Royal Society in 1953 and awarded the Society's Darwin Medal in 1970. He received the American Ecological Society's Eminent Ecologist Award (the first for a non-American) in 1961, the Linnean Society's Gold Medal in 1967, the John and Alice Tyler Award for Ecology in 1976 and the Edward W. Browning Award for Conserving the Environment in 1977. Elton died in Oxford in 1991.
Biographical and autobiographical:
Fieldwork and surveys:
The papers were received from C.S. Elton's widow, Mrs E.J. Elton, in March 1992.
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Elton | Charles Sutherland | 1900-1991 | zoologist and animal ecologist