Vol. 61, No. 4 | November 2016


Stuart A. Altmann, PhD

Written by Zuleyma Tang-Martínez, ABS Historian
Photos from the Internet

The ABS is deeply saddened to report that one of its founders and legendary members, Stuart Allen Altmann, died from complications of Alzheimer’s disease in Princeton, NJ, on October 13, 2016. He was 86. Stuart was born in St. Louis MO, but was raised in Los Angeles, CA.

After completing his undergraduate and Master’s education at the University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA), Stuart studied the mobbing behavior of birds under the mentorship of George Bartholomew; However his education was interrupted when he was drafted into the army for 2 years. In 1956, at the end of his military service, Stuart made his way to Panama to study howler monkeys, and subsequently published a still celebrated paper on their vocalizations. He then attended Harvard University where, in 1960, he completed his Ph.D. on rhesus macaques (in Cayo Santiago, Puerto Rico), working under E.O. Wilson. Stuart began his academic career at the University of Alberta, then moved, in chronological order, to Yerkes National Primate Research Center at Duke University, the University of Chicago, and, finally, to Princeton University. At Princeton, he became an Emeritus Professor but also continued to lecture in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. A pivotal moment for Stuart was meeting Jeanne Altmann (another renowned and esteemed member of ABS) in 1958, while both were working at NIH. They married in 1959. Together, in 1963-1964, they established the now famous Amboseli National Park baboon study in Kenya, which currently probably is the world’s longest continuous field study of a primate.

Stuart was a brilliant scientist who combined insights from natural history with predictive mathematical models, followed by rigorous hypothesis testing using quantitative, state-of-the-art ecological and behavioral techniques. His major research interests were animal communication, the evolution of mating systems, foraging, dominance relationships, and the model of “priority of access”, which he originated. In his own words, from his web page at Princeton, “…I consider the central problem of behavioral ecology: the ways in which an animal's behavior and social relationships are adapted to the two-fold problem of getting access to essential resources and simultaneously avoiding excess exposure to hazards … My research focuses on naturalistic behavior as an adaptive process.” Stuart published prolifically, in many cases in papers co-authored with Jeanne. He also wrote 3 highly influential books: Baboon Ecology: African Field Research (1970; co-authored with Jeanne), Social Communication Among Primates (1974), and Foraging for Survival: Yearling Baboons in Africa (2000).

In addition to being a Founder, Stuart was intimately involved with the ABS for many years. Most notably, he was President from 1977-1978 (Presidential sequence 1976-1979) and was one of the first members to be elected a Fellow of the ABS, in 1969. From 1993 to 1996, Stuart provided particularly important service as Chair of the ABS Ethics Committee. During this time, he published a total of 8 insightful and original essays on professional ethics in various issues of the ABS newsletter. From a personal perspective, during the time that I was president of ABS (1993-1994), Stuart was a trusted and judicious advisor on various ethical issues that came before the Executive Committee. His wisdom, accompanied by compassion, were hallmarks of his approach to ethical problems and his advice was invaluable to the society.

Stuart was a Renaissance Man and had another side that many ABS members did not know about: he was an artist and an expert potter – and he gave away his beautiful pots for free! Sue Margulis (a former student of Jeanne’s) writes; “His ‘2 for the price of none’ pottery sales were a real high in graduate school. Stuart always said that he got his pleasure from creating his art and he was happy giving it away so that others could also get pleasure from it…. It was an honor to have him on my graduate committee, I feel so fortunate to have known him, and to be able to call him a friend”. Stuart maintained pottery studios at his homes in Chicago and Princeton and was a regular exhibitor at crafts fairs. Other interests included growing an apple orchard and keeping detailed notes on the tastes, textures, and productivity of the different varieties; making apple cider; photography (especially of his grandchildren); music from a variety of cultures and traditions; and storytelling. He enjoyed listening to music and singing until the very end of his life.

Perhaps the greatest tribute I can pay Stuart is to say that he was a real “mensch”, a caring and generous man who was the epitome of honesty and personal integrity. I think I speak for many in my generation of animal behaviorists when I say that Stuart Altmann was a role model both as scientist of the highest caliber and as a human being. His passing represents a major loss of a giant in our field.

ABS extends condolences to Jeanne, his loving wife, scientific partner, and collaborator of 57 years; to his children, Michael and Rachel; to his grandchildren; and to other family members and colleagues. The family has requested that donations in memory of Stuart be made to the Fanconia Anemia Research Fund (http://fanconi.org) or to the Penland School of Crafts (http://www.penland.org).

Edward H. “Jed” Burtt, Jr., PhD

Written by Zuleyma Tang-Martínez, ABS Historian
Photos from the Internet


Long-time ABS member and world-renowned ornithologist, Edward H. “Jed” Burtt, died on April 27, 2016, at his home in Delaware, Ohio. Jed had waged a life-long battle with osteogenesis imperfecta (“brittle bone” disease), but never let this disability slow him down, instead leading an active and productive life as an accomplished scholar, mentor, and teacher. Jed was born on April 22, 1948 in Waltham, MA. He attended Bowdoin College for his B.A. in biology and then completed his Ph.D. in 1977, working with the legendary Jack Hailman at the University of Wisconsin. That same year he began his 37 year biology career at Ohio Wesleyan University until his retirement in 2014. During his time at Ohio Wesleyan, he served several terms as department chair and was much loved by both colleagues and students.

Jed had two passions in life (other than his family, of course): Birds and teaching: he began birdwatching as a young child – accounts differ as to whether he first became intensely interested in birds at the age of 2 or at the age of 4. In either case, he soon became the local “enfant savant” of birds and bird behavior and had visited virtually all the Massachusetts birding hot spots before he left for college. His interest in avian biology – especially feathers and colors – resulted in his dissertation on the evolution of color in the Parulidae or wood-warblers. This research culminated in a 126 page publication in Ornithological Monographs. Much of his subsequent research focused on the fascinating discovery that bacteria found in feathers can degrade the feathers and affect the coloration of birds. He went on to become the world’s expert on this interaction and also studied the defenses of birds to feather-degrading bacteria and the possible influence of the bacterial flora on sexual selection. His research on the microbiology of feathers also led to a patent on a technique for composting feather waste products at poultry farms. Jed travelled to all seven continents pursuing his research, as well as birdwatching. He published numerous scientific papers and several books. His last book, published in 2013, was Alexander Wilson: The Scot Who Founded American Ornithology (co-authored with W.E. Davis, Jr.).

Jed was an inspired and devoted teacher. In his own words, “Awakening a passion in a young person and helping each student fulfill a newly formulated dream is the essence of teaching. There is no higher calling, no greater purpose in life.” Jed’s excellence in teaching was recognized in 2011, when he was named “Ohio Professor of the Year” by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education. His exemplary commitment to involving undergraduates in research, led the Wilson Ornithological Society to establish the “Jed Burtt Mentoring Grants” program in his honor.

Earlier in his career, Jed was very actively involved in the ABS and was a regular participant at ABS meetings. He served as ABS Parliamentarian from 1983 to 1989; he also was a member and/or chair of the following ABS committees: Policy and Planning; Organization and By-Laws; Ethics; and Education. In 1994, Jed was elected a Fellow of the ABS in recognition of his outstanding scholarship and other contributions to the field of animal behavior.

Jed also had a distinguished history in ornithological societies. He served as president of both the Wilson Ornithological Society and the American Ornithologists’ Union and was elected a Fellow of both societies. In 2013, he received the Margaret Morse Nice Medal, a lifetime achievement award, from the Wilson Ornithological Society.
Jed’s achievements and remarkable career as best summarized by two colleagues. Former ABS Historian and friend, Lee Drickamer, states: “He was a tireless advocate for ornithology and a revered teacher at Ohio Wesleyan University for four decades - a fine naturalist and great mentor of literally dozens of undergraduate students”. Ohio Wesleyan colleague, Tom Wolber, says: “Jed Burtt was an exemplary teacher, an exceptional scholar, and (perhaps most importantly) a warm and wonderful human being. He will be missed by many.”

Jed will be fondly remembered by his many friends in ABS. The ABS offers sincere sympathies to his widow, Pam, his children, Jeremy and Michelle, and other family members, as well as Ohio Wesleyan colleagues. Donations in Jed’s memory may be sent to the William D. Stull Endowment Fund for the Ohio Wesleyan Natural History Museum, which Jed curated for many years.


Benson Earl Ginsburg, PhD
1918-2016: A Pioneer in Behavior Genetics

Written by Dr. Steven Maxson
Photo by Dr. Steven Maxson


Benson was born on July 16, 1918 in Detroit Michigan. His mother Sonia and father Morris were recent immigrants from Russia. Benson married Pearl on August 29, 1941. She was his companion and friend for 57 years. He is survived by his three daughters (Judy, Debbie, and Faye) by three grandsons, three granddaughters and three great grandchildren.

In 1939, he graduated cum laude from Wayne (State) University, and in 1941, he received a Masters degree from Wayne (State) University. His Masters thesis was titled, “Stock Fertility and Gene Drift in Drosophila melanogaster”. This work led to a summer course in the Zoology Department of the University of Chicago. Benson stayed on to become a graduate student of the population geneticist and zoologist, Sewall Wright. His doctoral research was on the biochemistry of coat color genes. The title of his Ph.D. thesis was, “The Effects of the Major Gene Controlling Coat Color in the Guinea Pig on DOPA Oxidase Activity in Skin Extracts”. He received his doctorate in 1943. His interest in gene-gene interactions and their role in development and evolution began with his research in Wright's laboratory.

While a doctoral student, he also became interested in the genetics of behavior. Wright had several lines of guinea pigs that differed in coat color. Individuals from one of these lines would attack any hand put into the cage. Ginsburg asked Wright if he could breed this behavior out of this line. Wright agreed. During this period, Ginsburg also worked with W. C. Allee, another member of the Zoology faculty. Allee was interested in the evolution of social behavior both cooperative and competitive, and one focus of his research was the genetics of aggression. He invited Ginsburg to study strain differences in aggression of male mice. Ginsburg found that males of C57BL10 inbred strain were more aggressive than those of the C3H strain and that the males of the C3H strain were more aggressive than those of the Bagg albino strain (now BALB/c). This was considered evidence of a genetic effect on intermale aggression. About the same time, Paul Scott found that the males of the C3H strain were more aggressive than Bagg albinos and that Bagg albinos were more aggressive than C57BL10s. Prior to publication (Ginsburg and Allee, 1942, Scott, 1942, each replicated his own finding in Allele's laboratory. Some years later, it was shown that the difference in strain rank order was due a subtle difference in handling of the mice. Ginsburg transferred his mice from cage to cage in a small box or by letting them walk from cage to cage, whereas Scott used forceps to pick the mice up by the tail for transferring from cage to cage. This was the beginning of Ginsburg's interest in genotype by environment interactions.

During World War II, he served in the U.S. Chemical corp. In 1946, Benson returned to the University of Chicago where he resumed his research on genetics of behavior and also turned his attention to undergraduate teaching. He helped to develop an undergraduate program in the natural sciences which he later chaired. Among his many honors, he twice received the Quantrell Award for excellence in undergraduate teaching from The University of Chicago. He also served as Professor of Biopsychology and Biology in the graduate school of the University of Chicago. In 1963 he was appointed William Rainey Harper Professor of Biology, a post he held until1968 when he left the University of Chicago to organize and chair the graduate Department of Biobehavioral Sciences at the University of Connecticut.

He and his family summered in Bar Harbor, Maine beginning in 1946. As a summer investigator in the Division of Behavioral Studies of The Jackson Laboratory, he studied audiogenic seizures, aggression, and effects of early experience in mice and rabbits. He also took part in behavioral studies with dogs. Among his colleagues at the lab were Paul Scott, John Fuller, Calvin Hall, Betty Beemen, Victor Denenberg, and Seymour Levine.

On the basis of his research and studies to date as well as the current state of genetics, Benson authored the article , Genetics as a Tool in the Study of Behavior (1958). This was just five years after the publication of Watson and Crick's model of the structure of DNA and its implications for gene replication, mutation and function. In this paper, Ginsburg cogently argued that in the context of evolution, genetics is a way of defining natural units of behavior, of getting at their underlying mechanisms of behavior, and of studying the effects of non-genetic variables on behavior. These were guiding principles for research in his laboratory. Another is summarized in this quote from that paper. "All aspects of the organism may be thought of as 100 percent genetic but not 100 percent determined.”

In 1968, Benson authored another seminal paper. This was entitled “Breeding Structure and Social Behavior in Mammals: A Servo Mechanism for Avoidance of Panmixia”. In it, he proposed that evolution by group selection could be much faster than by individual selection. Group selection would also preserve co-adapted interacting systems of genes. He argued that a role of mammalian social behavior was to divide the gene pool into selectable groups. The ideas in this paper informed most of his subsequent canid research. At the University of Connecticut, there was a kennel for coyotes, wolves and coyote x beagle crosses as well as a compound for a pack of wolves. He also worked for many years developing and supervising a breeding program for Guide Dogs for the Blind in San Rafael, California.

In 1969, Benson left the University of Chicago and along with colleagues founded the Department of Biobehavioral Sciences at the University of Connecticut. This was an inter-disciplinary department bringing together those with expertise in biology, psychology, and anthropology. Its focus was graduate training and interdisciplinary research. He was its department head from 1969 to 1985. Over one hundred doctoral students and many Masters students were trained in the Department of Biobehavioral Sciences.

About 1990, Benson worked with psychologist Ross Buck on the communication gene hypothesis. This hypothesis guided much of their research on human behavioral genetics. After Benson retired in 1997, he was a very active professor emeritus: teaching courses, doing research, supervising graduate students, serving on university committees and more. As a Senior Research Professor of Psychology, he had appointments in both the graduate school and the medical school. He participated actively in the 2006 meeting of the Behavior Genetics Association and the 2010 International Society for Research on Aggression meetings at the University of Connecticut.

Among Benson's many achievements is his major role in the founding of the Behavior Genetics Association in 1971. In 1980, he received its Dobzhansky Memorial Award for lifetime contributions in behavior genetics. In 2001, he received a similar award from the International Behavioral and Genetics Society. He also received the Centennial Alumni Award from Wayne (State) University, and he was a recipient of the Distinguished Service Award from the University of Chicago’s Medical Alumni Association. He was a fellow of AAAS, American Psychological Society, Animal Behavior Society, and International Society for Research on aggression, and Center for the Advanced Study of the Behavioral Sciences (in 1956 and in 1965). He was member of the Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 2002, his colleagues and students honored him with a two day festschrift at the University of Connecticut.

He affectionately gave his time, his support, his knowledge and his wisdom to his many students and colleagues, who reciprocated in many ways.

Ginsburg, B. E. (1958). Genetics as a tool in the study of behavior. Perspectives in Biology and Medicine. 1, 397-424
Ginsburg, B. E. (1968). Breeding structure and social behavior in mammals: a servo mechanism for avoidance of panmixia. In: Glass, D. C. (Ed.) Biology and Behavior: Genetics (pp. 117-128) New York. Rockefeller University Press.
Ginsburg, B. E. & Allee, W. C. (1942). Some effects of conditioning and social dominance and subordination in inbred strains of mice. Physiolological. Zoology. 15, 485-506.
Scott, J. P. (1942). Genetic differences in the social behavior in inbred strains of mice. Journal of Heredity. 33, 11-15.




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