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Vale David William Goodall AM

Tue, 12 Jun 2018

David William Goodall was a scientist of international stature who made a significant contribution to the disciplines that underpin the understanding of rangeland ecosystems. He was born in London on 4 April 1914. He died by assisted suicide in Liestal, Switzerland, on 10 May 2018 at the age of 104. He maintained an active interest in his science well past the age of 100, and was credited with being Australia’s oldest working scientist.

David made a substantial contribution to our understanding of Australian vegetation communities, numerical methods, statistical ecology and botany over a career that spanned more than 75 years. He authored more than 100 scientific publications and facilitated the publication of many more through his prolific editorial activity. He served on the editorial boards of several scientific journals, including Vegetatio and Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics, and as Editor-In-Chief of the 30 volumes of the Ecosystems of the World series. He was awarded the Doctor of Science degree by the University of Melbourne in 1953 and over the course of career held academic positions at number of institutions in Australia and overseas including the University of Reading, CSIRO, University of California Irvine, Utah State University, and Edith Cowan University. He was the co-founder and Director of the Desert Biome project of the International Biological Program.

David published on topics as diverse as plant taxonomy, plant physiology, grazing impacts, the structure of desert seed banks, numerical taxonomy, and statistical methods in ecology. He was at the forefront of the development of quantitative ecology and it is for his work in this field that he is best known and recognized worldwide. In a forward to a Guest Editorial in the Journal of Vegetation Science to commemorate his 100th birthday, he was recognised as a scientist who had a substantial impact on the field of botany and ecology by providing scientists with ‘a solid basis in scientiļ¬c theory and methodology’.

Perhaps his greatest contribution was in developing quantitative methods for classifying vegetation. A series of four papers in the 1950s was particularly influential. In one of these (Goodall 1954), he applied factor analysis to plant data from the Victorian Mallee and showed that species distributions could be represented by a number of orthogonal "factors" or axes, a process he called ordination. This technique had previously been applied in psychology and it is a tribute to his breadth of interest and insight that he was aware of its existence and appreciated its potential application in ecology. Today, Principal Components Analysis, as it is now called, is simply part of the standard toolbox of any field ecologist. He also made substantial developments that improved techniques for field-based ecologists. One of his most highly cited papers examined the use of point-based quadrats, an essential piece of equipment in any ecologist’s toolbox. In that paper he showed that increasing the size of the point tended to overestimate percent cover of the vegetation (Goodall 1952; 241 citations).

David’s quantitative research on vegetation patterning, quadrat size, indicator values and interspecific correlations has had a substantial impact on subsequent generations of ecologists both in Australia and overseas and was instrumental in moving the science of ecology out of the descriptive phase and into the quantitative discipline that we know today.

Goodall, D.W. (1952). Some considerations in the use of point quadrats for the analysis of vegetation. Australian Journal of Scientific Research Series B-Biological Sciences 5, 1-41.

Goodall, D.W. (1954). Objective methods for the classification of vegetation. III. An essay in the use of factor analysis. Australian Journal of Botany 2, 304-324.

Further information on David Goodall’s remarkable scientific contribution, and his long-standing advocacy of voluntary euthanasia, can be found at on which this brief valedictory has drawn. See also The Blog, Journal of Ecology

David Eldridge and Ron Hacker


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