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University community remembers renowned bee expert Charles Michener

Thursday, November 05, 2015

LAWRENCE — University of Kansas entomologist Charles Michener is being remembered for his stature in the field and his significant contributions to understanding the biology, evolution, classification and behavior of bees.  

Michener was the Watkins Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and KU Natural History Museum curator emeritus. He died Nov. 1 in Lawrence at age 97.

“Professor Michener ranks among the most accomplished researchers in the history of the University of Kansas,” said Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little. “The volume and quality of his research was tremendous, and his groundbreaking work in ecology and evolutionary biology helped elevate the stature of the entire university. On behalf of the University of Kansas community, I offer my condolences to his family, friends and colleagues.”

Michael S. Engel, the KU senior curator of entomology, said Michener’s contributions included launching the field of sociobiology and transforming how evolutionary biologists reconstruct patterns of the evolutionary history of organisms.

“Indeed, he lived a wonderfully long and rich life, and one that so positively influenced so very many,” Engel said.

Michener joined KU as an associate professor in 1948 and retired from teaching in 1989, although his research continued. He was a mentor to his many graduate students and to students of bees around the world. 

His major works include “The Social Behavior of the Bees” in 1974 and “The Bees of the World” in 2000, followed by an expanded second edition in 2007. He published his 514th scientific paper this year — 80 years after his first paper was published.

Michener gave names to 618 previously unknown species and has had 92 species named in his honor. He was a member of the National Academy of Sciences — the first Kansan elected to such an honor — and served as editor of the journal Evolution and associate editor of the Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics. 

Photos courtesy of the Spencer Research Library.

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