Joseph Hurd Connell

Date of Birth

October 5, 1923

Date of Death

September 1, 2020

Joseph H. Connell passed away in his sleep the morning of September 1, 2020 at his home in Goleta, California. An ecologist and Professor of Biology at UCSB, he was known for his pioneering use of manipulated ecological experiments in the field, most prominently with his work on the Great Barrier Reef and in the rainforests of Queensland, Australia.

Mr. Connell earned a bachelor’s degree in meteorology at the University of Chicago, followed by a master’s degree in biology from the University of California, Berkeley, and a PhD in zoology from Glasgow University in Scotland. His first academic position was at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute in Massachusetts from 1955-56. In 1957 he began teaching at UC Santa Barbara, moving his family to Goleta, CA.

His early research examined interspecies competition amongst barnacles in Millport, Scotland, followed by a study of competition and predation between snails, starfish, and barnacles in the San Juan Islands in Washington. In 1962 he received a Guggenheim grant to support new research in Australia, investigating population dynamics, diversity, and species interactions of coral on the Great Barrier Reef and amongst plants and trees in the rainforest in wwQueensland. He took two major sabbaticals to pursue this endeavor, moving his family to Brisbane, Australia in 1962-63 and 1971-72. His research on coral spanned more than 30 years and remains a landmark ecological study.

His works have been cited almost 20,000 times in the scientific literature, including a 1978 article in the journal Science, “Diversity in Tropical Rain Forests and Coral Reefs,” which has been cited 6,280 times. He was awarded the Mercer Award in 1963 and the Eminent Ecologist citation in 1985 from the Ecological Society of America. For the latter award, Sally Holbrook, Professor of Biology at UCSB, wrote that “Joe is surely the outstanding experimental field ecologist of the latter half of [the 20 th century].” A beloved teacher and mentor, Mr. Connell’s students are employed in university faculties around the world. After retiring from UCSB in 1992, he continued his research as an emeritus professor well into the 2000s.

Joe Connell was born in Gary, Indiana in 1923 to parents Grace Connery &  Joseph A. Connell. The family eventually moved to Pittsburgh, PA, where his father worked as an engineer in the steel industry. During WWII, Joe served as a weatherman in the Army Air Corps, where he was stationed in the Azores, flying missions over the Atlantic to gather the data used to predict the weather for Europe during the war. In his off hours he explored the Azores, an activity that he said sparked his interest in the natural environment. It was while studying barnacles in Millport, Scotland, that he met his wife-to-be, Margaret Harvey, who was also studying zoology. They married in 1954 in Margaret’s hometown of Exeter, England.

Joe was a lifelong baseball fan, cheering for his beloved Los Angeles Dodgers for over six decades. He loved classical music and Marx Brothers movies. He is survived by his wife Margaret and their four children: Andrew, Jane, Tim, and Kate, niece Mary Rollins Jones, along with eleven grandchildren and seven great grandchildren. Because of Covid-19, no memorial is planned at this time.


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