Margalef was born in Barcelona in 1919. His education was interrupted by the Spanish civil war in 1938, when he was recruited by the Republican army. After Franco's victory he was forced to do three more years of military service. He then worked as a messenger in Barcelona's Botanical Institute, and as an insurance clerk until, thanks to the help of several scientific personalities who appreciated his intellectual potential, he got a scholarship and managed to obtain his BSc from the Universitat de Barcelona (1949). He finished his PhD only two years later in 1951.
2002 CSIC Gold Medal, Spain; 1995 Excellence in Ecology Prize, Germany; 1990 Alexander von Humboldt Award ,Germany; 1984 Ramón y Cajal Award, Spain; 1980 Huntsman Prize ,Canada; 1972 Prince Albert medal, France. Margalef became the most cited Spanish researcher, sharing with Santiago Ramón y Cajal and Severo Ochoa the fact of being the three most relevant Spanish scientific workers in the life sciences out of 95 researchers in the world. The book Perspectives in Ecological Theory (1968) and the articles "On certain unifying principles in ecology" (1963), "Life-forms of phytoplankton as survival alternatives in an unstable environment" (1978) and "From hydrodynamic processes to structure (information) and from information to process" (1985) are citation classics, and the first is considered to be one of the two classical articles in the life sciences of the 20th Century.
After finishing his PhD, Margalef started to work in the newly created Institute for Fisheries Investigation in Barcelona, an institution which he later presided over from 1965 to 1967. In 1967 he became Spain's first professor of ecology, a position he held at the Universitat de Barcelona until his retirement 20 years later. As is to be expected in a man gifted with a prodigious curiosity, his involvement in active research never vanished, and he continued to visit his tiny office in the Ecology Department of the Universitat de Barcelona until a few weeks before his death in 2004.
Key HAB contributions
Margalef was one of the founding fathers of modern ecology and one of the most distinguished Spanish scientists of the twentieth century. His contributions have been extremely fertile in fields as diverse as limnology, oceanography, and theoretical ecology. Margalef was a prolific writer and he authored over 400 scientific papers and books. His first studies, published mostly in Spanish in the 1940s and 1950s, focused on the organization of planktonic communities in continental and oceanic waters. It was not until the late 1950s, with the translation into English of his inaugural lecture as a member of the Barcelona Royal Academy of Arts and Sciences "Information Theory in Ecology", that he gained a worldwide audience. Another groundbreaking article, "On certain unifying principles in ecology", published in American Naturalist in 1963, and his book "Perspectives in Ecological Theory" (1968), based on his guest lectures at the University of Chicago, consolidated him as one of the leading thinkers of modern ecology.
His studies have greatly contributed to our understanding of the spatio-temporal structure of ecosystems, the relationship between diversity, biodiversity, stability and connectivity, the role of external energy in biological productivity, and the interplay between ecological succession and evolution. He proposed a conceptual model for the ordination of major phytoplankton life-forms as a function of availability of nutrients and external energy, later called “the phytoplankton mandala”, that provided a valuable framework for the ecological understanding of red tides. In his lectures at the Universitat de Barcelona, or in the numerous invited courses and seminars elsewhere, he always promoted creative thinking and transmitted in a fresh and challenging fashion his views on how nature works, prompting students to "get out and discover nature" for themselves. His views were summarized in two monumental textbooks: "Ecología" (1974) and "Limnología" (1983). Ramon Margalef exemplified one of those rare cases in which an outstanding intellect coexists with equally exceptional personal qualities.
The scope of his knowledge, his humane nature, his modesty, his honesty and his sense of humor gave him a human dimension well beyond his scientific qualities. Much is to be learned from his approach to science and to life in general, in which an insatiable, childlike curiosity sprang from the intimate pleasure he found in observing the world around him. Some of his views have proven to be wrong, but they have been always original and inspiring and often truly revolutionary. In a scientific world dominated by reductionism he always was one of the few minds capable of seeing forests where most saw only the trees. He was also very much interested in the public appreciation of science and always advocated for the engagement of scientific rigor in environmental policy. “If God has put us on Earth, we have the right to make use of it but we might as well do so with a modicum of intelligence". We owe to him the introduction of information theory to the study of ecological diversity, arguably one of the major inflection points in the history of ecological thinking.
Marta Estrada; Dolors Blasco; Dolors Planas; Joandomènec Ros; Rosa Miracle; Antonio Cruzado; Xavier Niell; Miquel Alcaraz; Jordi Flos; Enric Ballesteros; Francisco G. Figueiras; Celia Marrasé; Jordi Camp; Luïsa Cros (+ 26 more)
10 Key HAB publications
Margalef, R. 1997. Red Tides and ciguatera as successful ways in the evolution and survival of an admirable old phylum. In B. Reguera, J. Blanco, M.L.Fernández and T.Wyatt (eds.) Harmful Algae, Proc. of the VIII International Conference on Harmful Algae Vigo, Spain 25-29 June 1997. Xunta de Galicia Integovernmental Oceanographic Comission of Unesco, Santiago de Compostela pp. 3-7.
Margalef, R., M.Estrada, D. Blasco 1980. Functional morphology of organisms involved in red tides, as adapted to decaying turbulence. In: D. Taylor and H.H. Seliger (eds.) Toxic Dinoflagellate Blooms. Elsevier. North Holland, pp. 89-94.
Margalef, R. 1978. Life-forms of phytoplankton as survival alternatives in an unstable environment. Oceanologica Acta, 1(4), 493-509.
Margalef, R. 1978. Phytoplankton communitties in upwelling areas. The example of NW Africa. Oecologia Aquatica, 3, 97-132.
Margalef, R. 1968.Perspectives in ecological theory. University of Chicago Press, III., 111 pp.
Margalef, R. 1968. Diversity and stability: A practical proposal and a model of interdependence. Brookhaven Symp. Biology, 22, 25-37.
Margalef, R. 1967. Some concepts relative to the organization of plankton. Oceanogr. Mar. Biol. Ann.Rev., 5, 257-289.
Margalef, R. 1963 .On certain unifying principles in ecology. American Naturalist, 97, 357-374.
Margalef, R. 1962.Succession in marine populations. Advancing frontiers of plant sciences, 2, 137-186.
Margalef, R. 1958.Temporal succession and spatial heterogeneity in natural phytoplankton. Perspectives in Marine Biology. Univ. California Press.
(Adapted from Margalef biography by Jordi Martínez Vilalta (2004) and comments by M. Estrada.)
A biography of Ramón Margalef, by Francesc Peters, is found the Limnology & Oceanography Bulletin; Volume 19 (1) March 2010 (PDF downloadable by ASLO members)
Margalef website, by Francesc Peters (some links are broken).