Evert Irving Schlinger (1928-2014)
A Personal Tribute
Michael E. Irwin
Following a long and difficult battle with Alzheimer’s disease, Evert Irving Schlinger passed away during a spectacular lunar eclipse in the early morning hours of Wednesday, October 8, 2014. Ev was peacefully resting at the home of his daughter Jane and son-in-law Brad Omick in Lafayette, California. He is survived by his brother Warren and sister-in-law Katie Schlinger, his four children Pete, Mathew, Jane, and Brian, and his 11 grandchildren.
Ev was a giant of a man in both stature and accomplishment. He had a noble heart, held a deep, abiding trust in people, and participated fully in life. Over his career, Ev was instrumental in advancing the sciences of biology, agriculture, biodiversity, and sustainability. His research focused on two diverse areas of science: an innovative approach to biological control of agricultural pests, and the biology, taxonomy, and evolutionary ecology of parasitic flies belonging to the dipterous family Acroceridae, commonly referred to as spider flies, small-headed flies, or, as Ev preferred to call them, “Acros.”
Ev earned a B.S. degree from the University of California, Berkeley in 1950 and, under the mentorships of Richard Bohart, Harry Lange, and others, a Ph.D. from the University of California, Davis in 1957. Among his numerous awards and honors, Ev was an Honorary Member of the Council of the International Congresses of Dipterology; a recipient of the Award of Distinction by the College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences, UC Davis; and a Fellow and Trustee of the California Academy of Sciences.
His research into biological control began after receiving his Ph.D., when he accepted a position as a research entomologist with the biological control unit at the University of California Citrus Experimental Station, Riverside. Teaming up with Professor Robert van den Bosch and with the critical assistance of two research associates, Jack Hall and Evert Dietrich, his activities included a multi-year effort to control the newly introduced and highly destructive spotted alfalfa aphid. This pest had no effective natural enemies in the USA, was spreading like wildfire, leaving in its wake decimated fields as far as the eye could see, and the agricultural sector of the state was in utter panic. The van den Bosch/Schlinger team pinpointed areas in the Middle East where appropriate parasitoids of this pest existed, located and collected them through foreign exploration, guided the parasitoids through strict quarantine, reared them in captivity, tested them on target and nontarget pests under laboratory conditions, released them in the field, and followed their movements and impact. This effort rapidly brought the aphids under control. The effort was so successful that, some 50 years later, the spotted alfalfa aphid, although still existing in Southern California, no longer causes problems. The amount of money this team saved the agricultural sector of California certainly adds up to many hundreds of millions of dollars.
During his time with the UC Riverside biological control unit, he, van den Bosch, and their team explored ways to keep a long list of alfalfa pests in check and, in that process, developed and tested a wide array of pest management tools. Their main focus was on manipulating and concentrating naturally occurring predators and parasitoids in the field to reduce pest populations. As an example, by manipulating habitats, they conceived and honed the concept of “strip cropping,” a method of harvesting an alfalfa field in stages to provide refuges in the un-mown areas where natural enemies could accumulate and thrive. The next time the field was mown, the previously uncut areas or strips would be harvested. These field experiments helped solidify and underpin the vary foundation of agro-ecology and agricultural sustainability. His perceptive knowledge of agricultural ecology, his deep understanding of natural enemy biology, and his native curiosity provided much of the driving force behind the team’s pioneering efforts in biological control. Ev and van den Bosch were indeed among the foremost architects of conservation biological control.
The Riverside team worked closely with a team at the University of California, Berkeley, which was, at that time, exploring the concept of “supervised control.” The Berkeley team, headed by Professor Ray F. Smith, with notable input from Vernon M. Stern and others, was in the midst of a spectacular breakthrough. The two teams worked collaboratively in developing the emerging science of integrated pest management (IPM). Ev’s concepts of cultural manipulation were focal to the conception and evolution of the integrated pest management paradigm. Ev’s specific contributions are now buried and long forgotten, but during the course of his seven years in the biological control unit at Riverside, he played a robust role in the creation of the IPM paradigm. In my opinion, the conceptual framework for IPM was very much in part a product of Ev’s inquiry and innovation.
His research focus shifted in 1963, when he was given a professorship in systematic entomology in the recently formed Department of Entomology at UC Riverside. That proved a milestone in his career, directing his thoughts and energies into systematic research, teaching, and administration.
His study of spiders and acrocerid flies, their obligate parasites, began when he was a child and was a driving force throughout his career and life. His research on acros was aimed at understanding big-picture questions about them: their evolution, biogeography, and their fastidious and intricate relationships with spiders. He was concerned with the evolution of the entire family, and, because the Acroceridae is an extremely old family of flies, he examined them from a world perspective. Acros are rare in collections, so he organized and participated in numerous large-scale expeditions to areas where these flies occur. These expeditions were mostly geared to the world’s biologically diverse “hot spots,” such as New Caledonia, Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Madagascar, South Africa, and Fiji. He took enormous pleasure in collecting expeditions and was continually searching out unexplored and potential important places to collect acros. Until he was overtaken with Alzheimer’s, he suggested venues and was an active participant on dozens of expeditions. I consider myself fortunate to have been a member on most.
Acrocerids are not only rare in collections, they are also difficult to collect as adults in the field. One of his approaches to obtain adult flies was to rear them from spiders, not a quick or easy task given that some spiders take several years to mature and acro larvae wait until their host is almost mature before consuming it. Throughout his career, he maintained thousands of spiders in captivity. I recall one three-month expedition he and I took in the 1980’s that circled Australia and probed the continent’s center. He stashed thousands of spiders in individual vials in every niche conceivable in a small, rented campervan. He would catch flies to feed the spiders almost daily. Sometimes the spiders escaped and were occasionally found crawling across my face while I was attempting to sleep at night. When I complained, he doggedly said, “Get used to it.” Ev was the recognized world authority on acrocerid flies for well over half a century. He relentlessly gathered specimens, organized them, and published on them. In the end, he left a structured, well-conceived framework upon which new workers are beginning to build.
Ev built a collection of historically rich and often rare literature on flies, spiders, biogeography, evolution, and the geological forces that shape that evolution: orogenesis, plate tectonics, continental drift, and terranes. Later, he developed significant literature holdings on the biota of selected geographical localities and ecological environments and expanded his literature collection to include biodiversity and topics associated with conservation biology and sustainability. In the end, he had a vast, focused, and inspiring collection of books and papers. What is more, he read them and was on top of all these subjects. I believe Ev to have been one of the most broadly informed researchers in the natural sciences.
Ev was modern in approach and anticipatory in his thinking. Methods that constitute modern systematics were, to some degree, pioneered by Ev and his students. He inspired all students towards innovation in their research. Before the term “informatics” was coined, before “databasing” was a regularly used tool in systematics, and during the early years of computers when bulky mainframe giants started to appear at the larger universities, Ev inspired his students to delve into those areas while conducting their dissertation research. He led graduate seminars that probed the philosophical underpinnings of cladistics and the phylogenetic approach developed by Willi Hennig, even before the concept was formally translated into English. He made sure his students were aware of the latest information and the most forward-looking and modern innovations in technology.
He was an inspiring teacher and mentor. Ev’s deep understanding of the natural world, coupled with his wide-ranging generosity and captivating character, made him a powerful magnet for students from the time he first joined the Entomology faculty at UC Riverside. I can imagine no better mentor than Ev. He was understanding, interactive, knowledgeable, yet unassuming. He was the mentor who gently pushed but never shoved. His personal knowledge base inspired those around him to become more informed, not just about science, but about all aspects of life. He inspired students to new heights, to arm themselves with new knowledge and honed skills. He brought pertinent knowledge to bear on problems of the day and conveyed this to students. Ev was so convinced that knowledge of the outdoors is critical to making sound decisions regarding the environment that he actively organized and led field trips for students, even though those activities took time from his personal life. His students are now professors in universities, systematists in the nation’s most prestigious museums, and prominent in a variety of other positions. Students of his students, his grand-students you might say, are among the most respected of the current dipterological and arachnological communities.
Ev was a charismatic leader. Wherever he went, whatever he did, people looked to him for advice and leadership. Perhaps that is why, quite early in his career, he became the Chair of the Department of Entomology at UC Riverside. While in that position, he was able to convince two separate units (Entomology and Biological Control) to amalgamate into a single, more robust department. This was no easy task, but his persuasive powers were great and his perseverance resolute. After he transferred to UC Berkeley, he was asked to chair their Department of Entomology. During his tenure as chair, he made substantial progress in advancing the biological sciences. Towards the end of his academic career at UC Berkeley, he formed and chaired a new unit, the Department of Conservation and Resources Studies. This new unit allowed him to expand his formal mentorship to undergraduate students.
Ev was passionate about life. He had the mental and physical capacity to do almost anything he wanted. He was an enthusiastic and excellent gardener. He loved food and wine, especially wine. He took joy from listening to classical music and to opera in particular. He had an enormous collection of records, tens of shelf feet of them, from 78’s through to 33 1/3, all on vinyl. He played them often and sang along with them with what I thought was a good voice. The few times I heard him play the piano, I was impressed, particularly so because I don’t think he ever practiced. The guy was plain talented!
He was a superior, determined athlete. During his undergraduate days at UC Davis (at that time, degrees for classes taken at Davis were awarded through UC Berkeley), he was on the track team and played end for the football team. He was so talented and so well appreciated at football that his jersey shirt number was retired. To my knowledge, that is the only jersey number to be retired in the entire history of UC Davis football. When, in the fall of 1963, I arrived in Riverside as Ev’s first graduate student, he played badminton over the noon hour. A few other entomologists took part, including Roy Fukuto and Jack Hall. I joined the group, as did Peter Rauch, and found that although Ev was a gracious sport, he was an even more awesome competitor; he almost never lost. No one I knew was as physically gifted as he.
Ev’s father was one of the original founders of United Parcel Service/ During WWII, he was often paid in preferred stock rather than cash. Ev did not grow up in a prosperous household. By the time Ev was a faculty member at UC Riverside, the UPS stock began to soar, split, and soar some more, and the Schlinger family became quite well off. Ev’s parents eventually placed some of the preferred stock into a family foundation. They endowed the Schlinger Chair of Systematics at Berkeley and another chair at Cal Tech, where Ev’s older brother, Warren, had studied and worked. After Ev’s parents died, the Foundation was passed down to Ev and Warren. They ran it jointly for a while, but Ev preferred it be used exclusively to support research, while Warren wanted it to fund higher education, including scholarships. As a compromise, they formally split the foundation, with each controlling one of the two halves.
As President of the newly formed Schlinger Foundation, Ev ensured that funds were made available for research in diperology, arachnology, biodiversity, biosystematics, and evolutionary biology. Over the years, the foundation awarded six endowed chairs, five to institutions in California (arachnology and dipterology at the California Academy of Science; systematic entomology at the University of California, Berkeley [funded by Ev’s parent foundation]; systematic entomology at the University of California, Davis; systematic entomology at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History), and one to dipterology at the Australian National Insect Collection, Canberra. It funded research programs in insect systematics; helped in the construction and running of biological stations in remote but biologically important parts of the globe; initiated an internship program to train young scientists in the skills of field entomology and arthropod curation from countries with severely threatened biota; and provided support for the International Congresses of Dipterology and treatises on Diptera. He encouraged and initiated long-term insect surveys in Madagascar, Fiji, New Caledonia, Australia, India, and elsewhere. These activities bode well for the sciences of arachnology and dipterology and for systematics and entomology as a whole. Ev can take full credit for all the good this small family foundation has done. He was very proud of these accomplishments.
Ev spent a lifetime in the dedicated service of entomology, agriculture, biological control, and systematics. This service is punctuated with vision and dedication, and with important and lasting innovation and discovery. He was an inspiring teacher and mentor, has served key leadership roles in entomology, and, through his research foundation, has provided resources to enliven and enrich the prospects of systematics and biodiversity well into the future. He ushered in a new generation of dipterists, arachnologists, educators, entomologists, and conservation biologists who have collectively built onto the foundations he laid, and his second-generation students are currently becoming today’s leaders. The impact his students and their students have had and are having on science, agriculture, and systematics is substantial and significant.
Ev was unquestionably among the most talented, innovative, and inspiring of entomologists; his reputation is broad-based, widespread, and stellar. His family, students, and colleagues all find in Ev a life-long friend whose parting has left a deep void. He will long be remembered by all of us. To me, he will remain a great mentor and my best friend.