William Murdoch, Ph.D.
William Murdoch is the retired Charles H. Storke II professor of ecology from the University of California, Santa Barbara. His research focused mainly on the dynamical interaction between populations of consumers (e.g., predators) and their resource populations (e.g., prey). He and collaborators developed mathematical models of such interactions and he also did experiments, mainly in the field, to test these ideas. This led him naturally into applied research on the biological control of insect pests, including an explanation for the highly successful control, around the world, of scale-insect pests of citrus crops by their insect parasites (parasitoids). In the 1970s, he was sidetracked for some years writing The Poverty of Nations: The Political Economy of Hunger and Population, a book showing that high birth rates leading to rapid population growth have economic causes and that poor parents have large families because it makes sense to do so. This is a topic to which he has occasionally returned. The book also explores the causes of poverty in developing countries. At the end of his academic career, he worked on approaches for reaching cost-effective decisions in allocating scarce conservation resources.
Murdoch has always been interested in environmental problems. From 1980 to 1990, he directed a study of the environmental impacts of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, near San Diego, that produced a now widely used (including at Santa Barbara Botanic Garden!) statistical method for distinguishing between human-induced environmental effects and natural environmental variation. He served on the board of directors of The Nature Conservancy and on scientific panels to review recovery of the Northern Spotted Owl and Marbled Murrelet in California and to oversee the development of recovery plans for salmon in the Pacific Northwest. From 1995 to 1996, he was the founding director of the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, an internationally known research center in Santa Barbara that has served as a model for around 20 such centers around the world.
Murdoch received a bachelor’s degree in zoology from the University of Glasgow and a doctorate in population ecology from Oxford University. He was a Guggenheim Fellow and is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a member of the National Academy of Sciences.
Murdoch’s love of and interest in nature grew out of a childhood spent mainly in the woods and fields surrounding a small Scottish village, and that has never flagged. He has dawdled away much of his life checking out insects, and more recently birds, and is ashamed to admit that he knows far too little about plants in spite of serving on the Garden’s board. His hope is that his enthusiasm for the Garden and its wonderful endeavors will serve to gloss over his ignorance.