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  • Tribute to Professor Dieter Mueller-Dombois
  • James D. Jacobi, Donald R. Drake, David Duffy, Kanehiro Kitayama, and Peter Vitousek

We were all saddened to learn of the passing of Professor Dieter Mueller-Dombois on July 19, 2022. He was a giant in the field of ecology and an inspiration to countless students, colleagues, and friends to learn to appreciate and work to preserve the composition, structure, and function of our natural ecosystems.

Dieter Mueller-Dombois was born on July 26, 1925 and grew up in Bethel Germany. After World War II he studied at the University of Hohenheim where he graduated in 1951 with a degree in agronomy. He then moved to Canada and attended the University of British Columbia where he studied under Professor Vladimir Krajina and earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Forestry and a Ph.D. in Forest Ecology in 1960.

From 1958 to 1963 he worked as a Forest Research Officer in the Canada Department of Forestry, Winnipeg, Manitoba, and then moved to Hawai'i, where he was Assistant Professor of Botany at the University of Hawai'i at Mānoa from 1963 to 1968, Associate Professor of Botany until 1972, and then Professor of Botany until his retirement in 1990. He continued as Emeritus Professor of Botany until his passing.

Throughout his career Dieter focused on vegetation and ecosystem research, teaching and mentoring graduate students, and conservation advocacy at both local, regional, and global scales. In addition to specific research efforts (over 200 publications), he organized and led several large, integrated programs including the Hawai'i Subprogram of the International Biological Program (Mueller-Dombois et al. 1981), investigation of canopy dieback of Metrosideros polymorpha on Hawai'i Island in the 1970s (Mueller-Dombois 1985,


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Mueller-Dombois et al. 2013), and the Pacific-Asia Biodiversity Transect (PABITRA) program (https://biodiversityoceania.com/pabitra/). Two of his most influential publications have been Aims and Methods of Vegetation Ecology (Mueller-Dombois and Ellenberg 1974), republished in 2002, and Vegetation of the Tropical Pacific Islands (Mueller-Dombois and Fosberg 1998).

He was also a passionate teacher and his classes and field trips at the university were highly popular and focused on teaching appreciation of Hawai'i's natural ecosystems and methods to study vegetation. During his time at the University of Hawai'i he taught thousands of undergraduate students and successfully chaired 17 MS and 18 PhD graduate students. [End Page 137]

Over the years he received many prestigious awards for his research and teaching including the Gifford Pinchot Award of the U.S. Forest Service for Forest Ecology Research in Hawai'i (1981), the Merit Award for Distinguished Service at the University of Hawai'i (1982), the Hawaii Governor's Award for Service as Commissioner on the Hawaii State Natural Area Reserves System Commission (1984), the Reinhold Tüxen Prize (2000), the Distinguished Service Award from the Hawai'i Conservation Alliance (2006), the Gregory Medal at the 21st Pacific Science Congress in Okinawa, Japan (2007), and as an Honorary Fellow for outstanding achievements and contributions in the field of Tropical Biology and Conservation in the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation (2015).

During his career he served as an inspirational model for a new generation of people involved with conservation in Hawai'i, as well as throughout the Pacific. Many of those that he mentored are now continuing to expand his legacy as they serve in important natural resource research, management, and administration roles. While his knowledge, leadership, and friendship will be sorely missed, we all need to build upon his inspiring career and continue to strive to ensure that natural ecosystems conservation is appreciated and effective throughout Hawai'i, the greater Pacific island nations, as well as globally.

Literature Cited

Mueller-Dombois, D. 1985. Ohia dieback in Hawaii: 1984 systhesis and evaluation. Pac. Sci. 39(2):150–170.
Mueller-Dombois, D., K. Bridges, and H. L. Carson. 1981. Island ecosystems: Biological organization in selected Hawaiian communities. Hutchinson Ross Publishing Co., Pennsylvania.
Mueller-Dombois, D., and H. Ellenberg. 1974. Aims and methods of vegetation ecology. John Wiley and Sons, New York, London, Sydney, Toronto.

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