By Kent Larsen
Prominent Mormon Ecologist Arthur Hasler, 93
MADISON, WISCONSIN -- Arthur Davis Hasler, prominent ecologist and
limnologist, member of the National Academy of Sciences and pioneer LDS
Church member in Madison, Wisconsin died Friday, March 23rd in Madison.
Hasler is best known professionally for his discovery of "olfactory
imprinting," the mechanism salmon use to migrate back to the stream in which
they were born. Hasler served an LDS mission to Germany, gaining there a
life-long love of the German language, and also was an accomplished
musician, playing the horn in the Madison Symphony for 25 years.
Hasler was already a professor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison when
he made his well-known discovery. According to his son, Mark, Hasler had
taken his family back to Utah to visit one summer during the late 1940s, and
had taken his children on a hike up Mount Timpanogos. As he rounded an
outcropping on the trail, he was struck by the same smells he remembered
from his childhood. This experience led him to theorize that salmon also
remember the smells of thier childhood, using that memory to find their way
home. He later proved this experimentally, leading to sweeping changes in
the way salmon are managed worldwide, including the well-known fish ladders
provided to help salmon navigate around dams.
His son, Mark, says Hasler was "very much a renaissance man." He flavored
his university lectures with German poetry. "He used to read German poetry
in his classes about the beauty of lakes," said long-time colleague John
Magnuson. "He imparted a moral and ethical sense of value and beauty of
nature." Raised in a music-loving Mormon family, Hasler played horn,
participating as a member of the Madison Symphony Orchestra for 25 years and
serving on the executive committee of the Madison Civic Music Association.
Arthur Davis Hasler was born January 5, 1908 in Lehi, Utah, the son of
Walter Thalmann Hasler and Ada Broomhead Hasler. Valedictorian of his high
school, Hasler went on to attend BYU, interrupting his schooling to serve a
three year LDS mission to Germany in the late 1920s. There Hasler worked in
what later became East Germany, serving in Dresden and nearby cities. An
Eagle Scout, he spent part of his time helping youth in German with the
scouting program. On his mission, Hasler also gained his life-long love of
After graduating from BYU in 1932, Hasler married Hanna Prusse, also a
returned missionary who had served a German-speaking mission to Wisconsin.
He also that year met researchers studying the lakes in Utah's Unitah
mountains. When he expressed an interest in studying lakes, they suggested
that he study at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, saying that the
university was the best place to study limnology (the study of lakes). After
working for the US Fish and Wildlife service as an aquatic biologist on the
Chesapeake Bay. Hasler and his wife moved to Madison, where he completed his
PhD in 1937.
When the Haslers arrived in Madison, they were one of the few LDS families
in Madison (they remain probably the LDS family that has lived in Madison
the longest), and Mark Hasler remembers that the branch there met in the
basement of the local Congregational Church and that the primary was held
each week in the basement of the Hasler home.
After receiving his PhD, Hasler stayed on as a faculty member at the
University of Wisconsin, Madison, continuing his research into lake ecology.
He pioneered a then new way of studying lake ecologies when he placed a
barrier between two lakes, lakes Peter and Paul, which are connected in an
hourglass shape, and used one as a control for his experiments on the other.
Those experiments led to his proof of the effects of "cultural
eutrophication," the effect of surrounding land on a lake. His experiments
showed, for example, that the manure farmers spread on their land during the
winter ended up in local lakes. Hasler also worked on ways to reverse
cultural eutrophication as well as experimental limnology.
During his 41 year career at Madison, Hasler taught 52 graduate students. He
also served as Chairman of the Department of Zoology from 1955 to 1957;
Director of the Laboratory of Limnology, 1963-78, and Director of The
Institute of Ecology, 1971-74. He wrote or contributed to seven books and
was author or co-author of 200 publications.
Politically, Hasler was an environmentalist, but his son Mark says that
Hasler tempered his views with a recognition of the limits and costs of the
changes needed to make changes. Mark says that his father was a people
person, and took the long view of his proposals.
In 1969 Hasler was inducted into the National Academy of Sciences, becoming
one of just a handful of Mormons elected to the prestigious body (many of
whom had been schooled in Madison). He was also elected to the American
Academy of Arts and Sciences. He received the Naumann-Thienemann Medal from
the International Society of Limnology in 1992 and served as the president
of the American Society of Limnology and Oceanography, the American Society
of Zoologists, Ecological Society of American and the International
Association for Ecology, The Hague. Twice he received Fullbright research
grants to study, once in Germany and later in Finland.
His greatest contribution to Mormonism may have been his simple insistence
that his beliefs be treated with respect. According to his son, Mark, he was
once considered for a position as Dean at the University of Washington, and
later learned he wasn't offered the position because he was Mormon. Later,
while on a Fullbright-funded trip to Finland, Hasler offered to give a
lecture sponsored by local LDS units, but several Finns tried to derail the
lecture because of the Mormon connection. Hasler insisted that the lecture
continue, threatening an international incident fueled by his scientific
reputation if it wasn't given.
During his emeritus years, Hasler tried to stimulate both the cause of
salmon management and peace with his "Salmon for Peace" project. The project
sought to bring together the governments of Russia and China to manage the
salmon population in the Amur River, which runs through both countries.
Hasler hoped to reestablish lost salmon runs on the river, and recover the
salmon population in the river, now collapsed due to overfishing. However,
the governments wouldn't get together for the idea.
Hasler unlocked secrets of salmon spawning
Milwaukee WI Journal-Sentinel 27Mar01 P2
By Eric LaRose: Journal Sentinel staff
Arthur Hasler, UW limnology pioneer, dies at age 93
U Wisconsin Madison Press Release 24Mar01 P2