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dr_clements.jpg (8808 bytes)Clements, Frederic Edward (Sept. 16, 1874 - July 26, 1945), botanist and pioneer ecologist, was born in Lincoln, Nebr., the oldest of three children and only son of Ephraim George Clements by his first wife, Mary Angeline Scoggin. His father, son of an immigrant from Somerset, England, had left Marcellus, N. Y., his birthplace, to settle in Lincoln, where he maintained a photographer's studio. Growing up in the prairie province of the Great Plains, Frederic Clements entered the University of Nebraska at the age of sixteen, graduated, B.Sc., in 1894, and stayed on for graduate study in botany (M.A. 1896, Ph.D. 1898). On May 30, 1899, he married Edith Gertrude Schwartz, a recent alumna of the university, who took a Ph.D. in botany in 1904. They had no children.

For ten years, beginning in 1897, Clements taught botany at Nebraska, becoming full professor in 1905. He left in 1907 to head the botany department at the University of Minnesota. In 1917 he gave up teaching to become a research associate of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, working in Tucson, Ariz., until 1925, when he transferred to the Institution's Coastal Laboratory at Santa Barbara, Calif. Throughout this time his summers were spent at its Alpine Laboratory (which he founded) on Pikes Peak in Colorado.

Other botanists have found fault with aspects of Clements's theory of vegetation, particularly his concept that plant formation (the vegetation of a given area) is itself a living organism subject to growth, maturity, and decay; or what some regarded as his undue stress on climate at the expense of other factors in determining types of vegetation. The great British ecologist A. G. Tansley, himself among the early critics of Clementsian terminology, nonetheless concluded that Clements was "by far the greatest individual creator of the modern science of vegetation." A distinguished student of African ecology, John Phillips, has attested to the influence of Clements on that continent.

In physical appearance Frederic Clements was slender, erect, and active, in speech quick and cogent. Roscoe Pound remembered him as "thoroughly conscientious, possessed of high ideals, and devoutly religious," though not, apparently, in any formal sense, for he was not a churchgoer. He died in a Santa Barbara hospital at the age of seventy of uremia owing to nephrosclerosis. Following cremation, his ashes were returned to Lincoln, Nebr., for burial in the family plot.
-- Paul B. Sears

"Frederic Edward Clements." Dictionary of American Biography, Supplement 3: 1941-1945. American Council of Learned Societies, 1973.