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  • Jonathan D. Sauer (1918-2008):Perspectives on his Life and Work in Latin America and Beyond
  • Timothy S. Brothers, Barbara Fredrich, Daniel W. Gade, and Clarissa T. Kimber

Early Years

Jonathan Deininger Sauer, Emeritus Professor of Geography at the University of California, Los Angeles, died May 25, 2008 at the age of 89. He was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan on July 16, 1918 to Lorena S. Sauer and Carl O. Sauer, then a professor at the University of Michigan. Five years later, the Sauer family moved to Berkeley where Jonathan attended local schools and then went to the University of California from which he graduated in 1939 with a B.A. and honors in history. After UC Berkeley he entered the graduate program in geography at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.

With World War II in full swing, Jonathan suspended his graduate work when he was drafted into the U.S. Army Air Forces and he became a weather specialist in the Pentagon. It was in Washington that he met Hilda Sievers, herself stationed at the Pentagon as a member of the Women's Army Corps. They married in 1946. Jonathan resumed graduate work, but this time in St. Louis in order to study with Edgar Anderson (1897-1969), a brilliant geneticist with broad interests (Anderson 1952). The Henry Shaw School of Botany at Washington University was housed at the Missouri Botanical Garden, then as now, one of the major world centers for plant taxonomy. Anderson had gone to Berkeley in 1943 on a Guggenheim Fellowship and there he and Carl Sauer became good friends. That contact explains how J. Sauer met Anderson and why he wanted to study with him. In letters to Carl Sauer, Anderson described Jonathan as an exemplary graduate student. [End Page 165] Within four years J. Sauer finished his dissertation on the grain amaranths and almost simultaneously published on it (Sauer 1950). He later reassessed the taxonomy and distribution of amaranths and in the process concluded that the transfer of the domesticated species from the New World to the Old was clearly post-Columbian (Sauer 1967b).

Career trajectory

In 1950 Jonathan Sauer moved to Madison, this time as an instructor in the University of Wisconsin's Department of Botany where he pursued a research and teaching program around plant taxonomy, plant geography, economic botany and plant evolution. He spent the year 1955-56 at the University of Michigan. In 1959 the Geography Department on the Madison campus invited him to accept a joint appointment. Among its faculty at the time were Glenn Trewartha, with whom Sauer studied weather and climate before the war, and Andrew Clark (then chair) and Frederick Simoons, both of whom had Jonathan's father as their mentor at Berkeley. The short walk between Birge Hall and Science Hall gave Sauer some breathing space from the fractious Botany Department, then split between the molecular scientists and those on the "natural history" side whose research did not involve replicable experimentation. The plethora of faculty positions in the 1960s made professors a mobile lot. In 1967 J. Sauer was a visiting professor at LSU in Baton Rouge and in that same year UCLA invited Sauer to join its Geography Department as a professor of geography. Its staff included two senior professors, Joseph Spencer and Henry Bruman, whose mentor had been Jonathan's father. Biogeography had recently been established as one of the UCLA department's main research and teaching clusters. Over the next 21 years, 15 of J. Sauer's students received their Ph.D. degrees, most of whom worked on a plant geography question related to southern California (Figure 1). From 1974 to 1981 he was Director of the UCLA Herbarium and the Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Gardens on the UCLA campus. He retired in 1988 and continued to live in Pacific Palisades until his death.

Research concentrations

Sauer's research program underwent several permutations. His early focus was on the grain amaranths, in the Amaranthaceae, a family of pioneer annuals. Fascination with other plants of open habitats took Sauer in 1958 to the Caribbean to study beach vegetation. He subsequently extended his coastal research elsewhere in the tropics. Three trips...