In Memoriam: Lord Robert May of Oxford

Robert McCredie May, OM, the Lord May of Oxford, and a renowned theoretical ecologist, sadly passed away on 28 April 2020.

Robert had a remarkable academic career spanning: physics, theoretical ecology, population biology, infectious disease dynamics, biodiversity, and finance, all stemming from his Bachelors degree in Chemical Engineering and Theoretical Physics, and doctorate in Theoretical Physics from the University of Sydney.

In 2012, Robert was awarded the CIEEM Medal in recognition of his outstanding commitment to biodiversity and the natural environment. He has also been the recipient of many other prestigious awards, including, a Knighthood in 1996, Companion of the Order of Australia in 1998, and the Order of Merit in 2002. He is only the fifth Australian to be awarded the Order of Merit in its 100-year history. Other awards include the Weldon Memorial Prize, the Medal of the Linnean Society of London, the Marsh Christian Prize, the Zoological Society of London Frink Medal, the Royal Swedish Academy’s Crafoord Prize, the Swiss-Italian Balzan Prize, and the Japanese Blue Planet Prize. In addition, in 2007 he was awarded the Royal Society’s oldest and most prestigious award – the Copley Medal – which is awarded annually for outstanding achievements in research in any branch of science.

Robert has always been an outspoken, charismatic and sometimes controversial proponent of biodiversity and ecosystems, particularly with regards to his work on the complexity and stability of ecosystems, which inspired decades of further research. His work on infectious diseases and modelling has also been cited thousands of times.

In addition to his outstanding academic career, Robert has held several prominent scientific and advisory positions. He was Chief Scientific Advisor to the UK Government and head of the Office of Science and Technology from 1995 to 2000. He also stood as President of the Royal Society from 2000 until 2005 alongside many prominent roles in the ecology sector.

Many tributes have been shared, highlighting what an impact Robert’s work and ‘big picture’ approach to science has had. Robert May and his work will continue to inspire many ecologists.