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fective a collector of cold-blooded vertebrates.” Grinnell told the American Museum's
G.K. Noble that the Thamnophis study was “far and away superior to any others. Fitch
pounds along quietly, with extreme industry, entirely on his own initiative. He requires
no pressure from seniors to get his work done. His thesis, for example, did not lag to-
ward the end, as is the case of most other graduate students.”
Grinnell might have added that most doctoral research doesn't cause much con-
troversy either. Reactions to Henry's 1940 monograph in the University of California
Publications in Zoology summarizing his dissertation findings ranged from lavish praise
to harsh criticism. 15 Ichthyologist Carl Hubbs, in an AmericanNaturalist review, judged
it “an outstanding contribution to knowledge of speciation.” 16 Writing in Copeia, Stan-
ford's George Myers called the work “impressive in care, execution, completeness, and
physical bulk” and approved of “the definable criterion of reproductive discontinuity,
rather than degree of difference, in distinguishing taxa”—but he regarded Artenkreis as
“neither necessary nor in good taste” (war with Germany loomed) and decried the ab-
sence of statistics. 17 Ernst Mayr, an evolutionary biologist of German descent, claimed
in the same Copeia issue that the use of Artenkreis ran “contrary to all modern prac-
tices,” and in his influential 1942 volume, Systematics and the Origin of Species, con-
cluded that “Fitch's strict adherence to the intergradation principle led to an absurd
nomenclature.” 18
Henry, preoccupied with postdoctoral research and military service, delayed re-
sponding until 1948. In Copeia he credited another M.V.Z. student, Wade Fox, for show-
ing that Thamnophisordinoides is restricted to the Pacific Northwest, which meant that
most other western gartersnakes are subspecies of T.elegans. He also pointed out that
“Mayr's excellent topic” regarded as single-species populations some other organisms
that overlap without interbreeding, yet rejected similar treatment for gartersnakes. 19
Their disagreement mirrored then-current debates about defining species and problems
with inferring relationships from anatomical features, whereas now we rely on breeding
experiments and DNA sequences. By 1996 Douglas Rossman had assembled still more
data and split the three species into six, meanwhile praising Fitch's “exhaustive study,
which few if any have matched and none have surpassed. Particularly noteworthy was
the use of nontraditional characters in a highly objective, often quantified, manner.” 20
Henry always regarded the dissertation as his biggest achievement because it con-
nected anatomical evolution with ecological variation, as predicted by Darwin's and
Wallace's theory of natural selection. In terms of lasting value, however, accounts of
alligator lizards and gartersnakes in Robert Stebbins's Amphibians and Reptiles of
Western North America and A Field Guide to Western Reptiles and Amphibians relied
on thousands of specimens that Fitch collected and interpreted. 21 Indeed, without all
those quantified, vouchered natural history facts, we couldn't talk effectively about or-
ganisms, let alone promote conservation. Henry conducted seventy more years' worth
of field studies, and later I'll argue that they've had even greater impact than the early
work. But first we'll examine how his practice of natural history inspired others, myself
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