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  • In Appreciation of Professor Dieter Mueller-Dombois1
  • Peter M. Vitousek and Donald R. Drake

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Photo: M. Clark 2010

The following set of five papers is published in honor of Professor Dieter Mueller-Dombois, in recognition of his long and distinguished career (and in celebration of his 85th birthday). For nearly half a century, Prof. Mueller-Dombois has contributed to our knowledge of Hawai‘i and the Pacific in profound and diverse ways. All of us who work in ecology, conservation, and/or resource management owe him a great deal; his work has been the foundation for much of what we have done. Even since his retirement more than twenty years ago he has continued to push himself and all of us into new areas of research and new ways of thinking.

Prof. Mueller-Dombois was born in Germany in 1925. After serving in World War II (see for a fascinating account), his passion for forestry led him to Canada, where ultimately he earned a PhD in forest ecology from the University of British Columbia. He moved to the University of Hawai‘i in 1963 and remained on the Botany faculty until his “retirement” in [End Page 117] 1990. His scholarly work defies simple categorization. He was the great synthesizer of the European and American traditions in plant ecology, through his classic book, Aims and Methods of Vegetation Ecology (with Heinz Ellenberg). He pursued field research on ‘ōhi‘a dieback in Hawaiian forests and developed a novel explanation for the phenomenon (and other forest diebacks in other regions). With Ray Fosberg, he produced a monumental analysis, Vegetation of the Tropical Pacific Islands, a work of scholarship that most likely will never be matched. That research drew him into the Pacific beyond Hawai‘i, where he helped to establish the PABITRA (Pacific Asia Biodiversity Transect) project. He has authored more than 200 publications, many of which are highly cited (led by Aims and Methods, which has been cited more than 5,000 times).

In addition to research, Prof. Mueller-Dombois trained many young scholars, including advising 18 scientists through PhD dissertations (many of them individuals who themselves now play leadership roles in research, education, and resource management in Hawai‘i and elsewhere). He also contributed to resource management through his service on the Hawai‘i Natural Areas Commission and in numerous other ways, to regional activities through the Pacific Science Association, and to the global scientific community. Prof. Mueller-Dombois’ work has been recognized globally; he has received the Gifford Pinchot Award from the US Forest Service, the Reinhold Tüxen Award in Vegetation Ecology, an honorary doctorate from Brandenburg Technical University, the Distinguished Service Award from the Hawai‘i Conservation Alliance, and the Gregory Medal from the Pacific Science Association.

The papers in this special section represent another tribute to Prof. Mueller-Dombois’ contributions. Those of us who work with Prof. Mueller-Dombois know that perhaps his greatest pleasure as a scientist is having his work taken up and carried on by others. The papers in this section honor some of the breadth of his many contributions: they range from the analysis of a substantial threat to Hawaiian native forests, and how it may be met (Loope and Uchida); to a scholarly consideration of pathways of plant movement between Europe and the rest of the world (Kiehn); to an extension of research that Prof. Mueller-Dombois initiated in Hawai‘i to the diverse forests of Kinabalu (Kitayama); to an analysis of microbial diversity in Hawaiian forests using newly available molecular tools (Lynch et al.); to an analysis of the functioning of Hawaiian ahupua‘a in dryland regions (Kagawa and Vitousek) that complements Prof. Mueller-Dombois’ and others’ analyses of ahupua‘a with irrigated agriculture. We hope that this collection will inspire others to study what Prof. Mueller-Dombois has accomplished and to follow their own interests and convictions with the passion that he has displayed through his long and productive life. [End Page 118]

Peter M. Vitousek
Department of Biology
Stanford University
Stanford, California 94305
Donald R. Drake
Department of Botany
University of Hawai‘i at...


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