Portrait of Dr. Frank H. Wadsworth in 2002. (Forest Service photo by IITF Library)

The world lost a giant of forest conservation with the passing of the USDA International Institute of Tropical Forestry (IITF) emeritus scientist Dr. Frank H. Wadsworth on January 5th, 2022. Dr. Wadsworth initiated pioneering studies of the long-term dynamics of tropical forests that eventually contributed to the establishment of the Luquillo Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) site, among many other things.

“Dr. Wadsworth was a pioneer in the study, conservation and management of forests in Puerto Rico. He humbly and compassionately shared his knowledge for the benefit of all, and his gift of service to the public will continue as a model for us and future generations,” said Grizelle González, IITF Assistant Director for Research and Luquillo LTER co-PI.

Ariel E. Lugo, former Lead PI of the Luquillo LTER, and former director and emeritus scientist of the IITF, joined the statements of mourning by highlighting that “Dr. Wadsworth arrived in Puerto Rico by boat without knowing anything about the island. Puerto Rico was the winner, since for the next 80 years Dr. Wadsworth focused his enormous energy, talent, and discipline in the development of tropical forestry, which did not exist at that time.”

Dr. Frank H. Wadsworth in tree nursery in Puerto Rico (1989). (Forest Service Photo by IITF Library)

Born on November 26, 1915 in Chicago, Illinois, Dr. Wadsworth earned his PhD in Forestry from the University of Michigan. As part of his dissertation Dr. Wadsworth established in 1943 several long-term forest plots that IITF continues to monitor, yielding insights that inform ecology and management today. During his tenure as an employee of the USDA Forest Service, Dr. Wadsworth was a forester, Director of the Institute of Tropical Forestry (now IITF), Supervisor of the Caribbean National Forest (now El Yunque National Forest); he established the Luquillo Experimental Forest in 1956. After his retirement from the Forest Service, he continued his research as a volunteer at the Institute, always dedicated to conservation and tropical forestry. He traveled the world learning and sharing his understanding of tropical forests. He is particularly beloved throughout Latin America where they remember him as a founding father of the practice of tropical forestry. Over the course of his lifetime, Dr. Wadsworth was responsible for the development of countless foresters whom he trained and mentored in Puerto Rico and beyond.

Thanks to his work today, all Puerto Ricans and many others around the world understand the importance of trees and their benefits, and advocate for the greening of their communities and countries. The seeds that Dr. Wadsworth sowed during his long and productive career have germinated in all of us. Having an LTER site in Puerto Rico is one of the many fruits of his labors.

– by Jess Zimmerman and Ariel Lugo