John Pearse (1936-2020)
John Pearse, professor emeritus of ecology and evolutionary biology at UC Santa Cruz, died on Friday, July 31, at his home in Pacific Grove, California.
A leading authority on marine invertebrates and intertidal ecology, Pearse was a beloved teacher and mentor to generations of marine biologists. He pioneered long-term studies of kelp forests and intertidal ecosystems on California’s Central Coast, was instrumental in establishing the marine science program at UC Santa Cruz, wrote and edited major textbooks and reference books in his field, and led several scientific organizations.
His most enduring legacy, however, is likely to be the many students he inspired, mentored, and helped launch on successful careers in science.
“John’s ability to draw in students, to convey the pure excitement of basic research, was unparalleled,” said James McClintock, who worked with Pearse as a UCSC undergraduate and later as a postdoctoral fellow, and is now an endowed professor of polar and marine biology at the University of Alabama, Birmingham.
Born in Boise, Idaho, Pearse attended high school in Tucson, Arizona, obtained his B.S. in zoology at the University of Chicago, and earned a Ph.D. in biology at Stanford University. He taught at the American University in Cairo, Egypt, and studied invertebrates in the Red Sea, but had to leave abruptly when the 1967 Six-Day War erupted. After four years as a researcher at the California Institute of Technology, he joined the biology faculty at UC Santa Cruz in 1971.
After his retirement in 1994, Pearse continued to teach and conduct research as a professor emeritus. In 2000, he founded an educational program for high school students, initially run by UCSC’s Seymour Marine Discovery Center, to teach students about the intertidal zone and continue the monitoring of coastal ecosystems he had begun in the 1970s. Eventually, the program grew to become a statewide citizen science program, the Long-Term Monitoring Program and Experimental Training for Students (LiMPETS), monitoring the coastal ecosystems of California’s national marine sanctuaries.
Although Pearse’s research focused mostly on the California coast, his studies ranged from Antarctica to Japan. He was among the first biologists to work at McMurdo Station, overwintering in the Antarctic in 1961 and studying reproduction in an Antarctic sea star. Pearse Valley, an ice-free valley near McMurdo Sound, was named in recognition of his early contributions to Antarctic science.
Pearse is survived by his, wife Vicki, son Devon, daughter-in-law Louise, granddaughter Fiona, and brother Spencer. Donations in his memory may be made to support students in the marine sciences through UCSC’s Institute of Marine Sciences and Long Marine Laboratory, the Western Society of Naturalists, California Academy of Sciences, or Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology.
Editor’s note: John was the recipient of the 2017 AAUS Scientific Diving Lifetime Achievement Award.
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