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Errington, Paul Lester

Published onJul 30, 2021
Errington, Paul Lester

(June 14, 1902 – November 5, 1962)

Quick Facts

An influential professor of zoology at Iowa State, animal ecologist, and naturalist.


Paul Errington was born near Bruce, South Dakota, and graduated from Brookings High School in 1921. From his earliest days, he was intrigued by the natural world and its series of interrelationships. At the age of 14, he commenced a career in hunting and trapping, focusing on his family's South Dakota farm.

After 13 years of trapping, Errington entered South Dakota State College, where he received a BS in 1929. He then went on to attend the University of Wisconsin, graduating in 1932 with a PhD. Through an industrial fellowship (1929-1932) focusing on Wisconsin quail, Errington met Aldo Leopold, the man who would serve as both mentor and colleague. Although Leopold was not technically a faculty member, he did participate in Errington's preliminary and final PhD examinations, and Errington depended greatly on Leopold's expertise. Errington credits Leopold for teaching him that making comments and determinations about animal fluctuations should be dependent on data and facts, not merely personal experience in the field.

In 1932 Errington joined the faculty of Iowa State College (ISC, now Iowa State University) as a research assistant professor in zoology. Two years later, in 1934, he married Carolyn Storm; they had two sons, Peter and Frederick. Errington's career at Iowa State flourished, and he was promoted to associate professor in 1938 and professor in 1948, serving in that capacity until his death. He spent his entire career at Iowa State, except for a stint as a visiting professor at Lund University in Sweden, where he studied population dynamics. He also went on to lead the first Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit in the United States, located at Iowa State. The unit focused on the various state and local aspects of wildlife management by sponsoring research and providing training through the college's Extension Service.

Errington was considered an international authority on the phenomena of predation and automatic mechanisms of population regulation for vertebrates. His professional areas of expertise included vertebrate ecology and population dynamics, and he was a proponent of the concept that predators be considered part of the "balance of nature." As a specialist in population dynamics, he collected data on bobwhite quail, mink, muskrats, and great horned owls. For many years he was engaged in collecting much-needed data on various environmental areas, and his research demonstrated the importance of fieldwork and sustained data collection over long periods of time.

He wrote more than 200 scholarly articles focused on his areas of research, but he also wrote literary works that became immensely popular. His books included Muskrat Populations (awarded the Iowa State University Press award for faculty publications), Of Men and Marshes, The Red Gods Call, Of Predation and Life, and A Question of Values (published posthumously). He also received publication awards from the Wildlife Society in 1941 and 1947.

Errington was a member of numerous professional and academic societies, including Sigma Xi, the Wildlife Society, the American Society of Zoologists, the Ecological Society of America, the Iowa Academy of Science, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (Fellow). In 1952 he was named a Fellow of the American Ornithologists' Union. In 1961 Life magazine selected Errington as one of 10 outstanding naturalists in the United States, and in 1962 the Wildlife Society awarded him the Aldo Leopold Medal, the highest honor bestowed by the society for distinguished service to wildlife conservation.

Iowa State University now sponsors the annual Errington Memorial Lecture, bringing to the campus eminent lecturers in the fields of wildlife and behavioral ecology whose research evokes the spirit of Paul Errington. In 2000 Carolyn Errington remarked during the dedication ceremony for the newly created Errington Marsh in Story County, Iowa: "Paul had two distinguishing personal qualities that made his professional career practically inevitable. He was intensely curious about free-living wild creatures, and he was extraordinarily sensitive to beauty in the out-of-doors."

Selections of text republished with permission from the Iowa Biographical Dictionary, edited by David Hudson, Marvin Bergman, and Loren Horton. Published by the University of Iowa Press, Iowa City, IA. Online publication, 2009.

Selected Sources

The Paul Errington Papers and the Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit Records are in the University Archives, Iowa State University Library, Ames.

Two of Errington's books contain biographical information: The Red Gods Call (prepared for publication by Carolyn Errington, 1973) and A Question of Values (edited by Carolyn Errington, 1987).

See also R. C. Summerfelt, "Remarks for the Dedication of Errington Marsh" (2000); and Kenneth Carlander and Milton Weller, "Survey of a Life's Writing-Paul Errington's Bibliography," Iowa State Journal of Science (1964).

Zanish-Belcher, Tanya. "Errington, Paul Lester" The Biographical Dictionary of Iowa. University of Iowa Press, 2009. Web. 9 June 2017

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