George W. Barlow 1929 – 2007
Distinguished ichthyologists and fish collectors left us in 2007
For scientists and particularly for fish-lovers around the world 2007 was a sad year. Three outstanding personalities passed away. Jacques Géry’s obituary was published in aqua 12(4). One month later we lost another leading personality in science, George W. Barlow, and before end of the year the greatest collector and scholar of Malawi cichlids, Stuart Grant, suddenly passed away. They are remembered for their outstanding fieldwork, ichthylogical and other natural history research, their enthusiasm and their formidable contribution to the inventory of species on our planet.
George W. Barlow 1929 – 2007
The day I first met George W. Barlow was in the 1980s when we were both invited to give a talk for the Pacific Coast Cichlid Association at San Francisco’s Steinhard Aquarium. Until late, we talked about many issues, such as the growing destruction of freshwater habitats, marine environments (“cichlid people always invite me, but most aquarists don’t know that I am primarily a marine biologist” he told me), and Central America. Both of us collected and studied fishes there. When I asked “why Midas”, George, who had started working in the area in the 1960s told me “…once upon a time, if stories are true, there lived in ancient Greek King Midas, whose touch turned everything into gold, but whenever I see a goldfish I wonder if King Midas was not a Chinese…”. He called Cichlasoma citrinellum “Midas” because of a rare brightly coloured morph, which he studied in Lake Nicaragua, Managua and some crater lakes in Nicaragua. His contribution on cichlids published in the Investigation of the Ichthyofauna of Nicaraguan Lakes in 1976 is still the standard work on those species.
Last November, when I was back in Nicaragua together with Axel Meyer from Konstanz, Germany, G. Barlow’s former Ph.D. student at Berkeley, I recalled our conversation that evening. George had told me, that the Midas cichlid represented the largest biomass in the Nicaraguan lakes, which today is no longer the case. I found that now almost 80 % of the cichlids in Lakes Nicaragua and Managua are exotics, even though as early as 1955 George Myers warned “…that any introduction of Tilapia mossambica would most likely have a disastrous effect upon the native fauna…”.
On our second meeting at the American Cichlid Association (ACA) on the occasion of their International Cichlid Congress in Orlando in 1989, where we both were again invited, I remember talking about Cichlasoma. George and other leading ichthyologists wanted to see this genus retained, at least in part, and George continued using Cichlasoma in his last book, The Cichlid Fishes Nature’s Grand Experiment of Evolution (Barlow 2000). Robert R. (Bob) Miller and George helped me tremendously with my book on the freshwater fishes of the world, for which I am extremely grateful. Their views will be reflected in that book.
Some of the ICC-89 Speaker lineup. (L-r, standing) – Dr. George Barlow, Ad Konings,
Dr. David Ford, Ross Socolof, ACA Fellow and organizer of the Fish Farm Tour.
(L-r, sitting) – ACA Chair, Horst Walter Dieckhoff; David Herlong, Dr. Antony Ribbink, Heiko Bleher
Former BB Editor and FACA Randy Crout (left) and ACA Fellow Ross Socolof videotape the talks (left)
Heiko Bleher (right)
Dr. Tony Ribbink makes a point to an attentive audience
We talked most of the time about cichlids, their behaviour, the fascinating biology of the Midas cichlid and why it is found in many of the crater lakes – unlike C. labiatum.
ACA Founding Members (l-r): Richard Griffiths, Larry Brown,
Dr. George Barlow, Dick Stratton and Jim Langhammer
We met on many other occasions and, without a single exception, I always listened to this wise, extremely knowledgeable and humble man. Our last encounter was in New Jersey in 2001. George proudly presented me with his new book dedicated “To Heiko – a real cichlidot! Alles Gute, George”. I will keep this copy forever and read it over and over again. George always talked with me in German, which he was quite good at. In the process of pursuing his PhD studies in ichthyology he was increasingly drawn to ethology, the study of animal behaviour. This culminated in a two year postdoctoral fellowship (1958-1960), which he spend in the laboratory of Konrad Lorenz in Bavaria. He also spent one year in Bielefeld, Germany (1977-1978), participating in a research programme on the development of behaviour. George was always open to hobbyists around the world, but his main interest was in behavioural ecology, ethology, behavioural mechanisms, evolution and speciation in fishes, reptiles and amphibians and in many other fields. After his retirement he became Professor Emeritus at the Department of Integrative Biology University of California at Berkeley in 1993, where he pursued these interests.
There is an excellent Website by George Barlow (http://ib.berkeley.edu/labs/barlow/cv.htlm ), where it becomes obvious what an incredible person he was. In February 2002, George joined the Editorial Board of aqua, International Journal of Ichthyology serving for five years as an active advisor. In March 2006 he decided to resign from the Board because of his failing health.
George was convinced that cichlids, because of their “explosive” radiation into multiple species, have become celebrities in the realm of evolutionary biology. With George we all lost a unique celebrity, who cannot be replaced. George was able to tell us more about his beloved fishes than anyone else. As mentioned in his last book, which everyone should read, cichlids spoke to George and I believe him as fishes also talk to me. Farewell George, I will continue to talk to you as long as I live, and to your cichlids.
Heiko Bleher, January 2008