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- Robert Lenthall Jefferies
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Robert “Bob” Lenthall Jefferies (1936-2009) was born on 13 March 1936 in Trowbridge, Wiltshire, England, and grew up in Clevedon, Somerset. He credits his mother Violet, a school teacher with a passion for British natural history, as the inspiration behind what would become his life’s work. He studied at the University of Bristol, graduating with a degree in botany with subspecialties in chemistry and microbiology in 1958, and a doctorate in plant ecology in 1962. He moved to the University of California at Davis from 1962-64 for a two-year postdoctoral fellowship with Emanuel Epstein in the soil and plant nutrition department. There he met Susan Locke, who he married in 1964 before moving back to England to take up a position at the University of East Anglia in Norwich to work with Jack Dainty.
In 1973-74, Prof. Jefferies took a year-long sabbatical as visiting professor at the University of Toronto, Canada where Jack Dainty had moved. During this year he was asked to stay on as a full professor in the Botany Department, which he accepted in 1975. He became a Canadian citizen and remained at the University of Toronto until his official retirement in 2001 and beyond.
During his 45-year long career, Prof. Jefferies’ main focus was around the Hudson-James Bay system. He was first invited to join Fred Cooke at his research camp in La Pérouse Bay near Churchill, Manitoba. From 1978-1992, Jefferies spent his summers there with graduate students and international collaborators, studying nesting snow geese and plant-herbivore interactions as part of the La Pérouse Bay Snow Goose Project. Between 1993-2009, he co-led (with Robert Rockwell and Ken Abraham) the Hudson Bay Project, a collaborative research program that studied the impact of migrating birds on northern Canada.
According to his obituary in the Globe and Mail, “Prof. Jefferies was among the first to recognize that the geese had begun multiplying in unprecedented numbers and that their increased population was turning part of the Arctic into a desert. He also realized that the loss of vegetation allowed seawater to seep in and further degrade the environment which, in turn, caused a decline among other animals living there. […] His efforts to document the consequences of climate change and wildlife populations were central to setting North American wildlife management policy. His work also played a role in the establishment of Wapusk National Park on the Hudson Bay.”
He was a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which received the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for its work on the impacts of climate change.
In addition to his research in the field, Prof. Jefferies served as Associate Editor of the Journal of Ecology and was on the editorial board of Global Change Biology. He was also a dedicated graduate student mentor and teacher. He was instrumental in the creation of BIO150: Organisms in the Environment, the largest class in Canada and required by most science students at the University of Toronto. Teaching it every year since it began in 1990, Prof. Jefferies was scheduled to teach it again in the fall of 2009 when he died of a cerebral hemorrhage in Toronto on 8 July 2009 at the age of 73.
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• Abbate, Gay. (2009, Jul. 30). U of T prof had a field day with Arctic snow geese. The Globe and Mail. Retrieved on April 6, 2022 from https://research.amnh.org/users/rfr/hbp/globeandmail.htm
• Sage, R., Kotanen, P., Davy, T. & Abraham, K. (2009). Robert L. Jefferies (Obituary). Bulletin of the British Ecological Society (40)4, pp. 49-52.