Meet the Editors: Ken Thompson

Ken Thompson (in the middle).
Ken Thompson (in the middle).

Ahead of this year’s British Ecological Society Annual Meeting, we wanted to give you the chance to get to know some of the people behind the decision letters. First up from Functional Ecology is Senior Editor, Ken Thompson. Ken Thompson is also a successful writer and copies of his latest book, Darwin’s Most Wonderful Plants, will be available at the Annual Meeting.

What can you tell us about the first paper you published?

My first paper, in Annals of Botany, described an apparatus we had built to measure the effect of daily amplitude of temperature fluctuation on the germination of seeds. But my second paper, which reported some of the results from using it, was in Nature. I think I was too inexperienced to realise what a big deal that was; just as well really, since it was 34 years before I had another paper in Nature.

Are you a good cook? What’s your signature dish?

No, I don’t think I am, but I make a pretty good chocolate cake.

How many BES annual meetings have you attended? Which one was the best?

Too many to count. I started to attend when I was doing my PhD in the mid-70s, and I’ve been to most since then, although I mostly stayed away when the meeting moved to September, but then so did most people. It’s all a bit of a blur really, so hard to say which one was the best. Best talk is easy though: Bill Sutherland’s stuffed-oystercatcher tour de force.

Cowslip (Magnus Hagdorn)
Cowslip (Magnus Hagdorn)

What’s your favourite species and why?

If I can pick two, they would have to be the cowslip and early purple orchid, the two early-summer signature plants of the limestone dales of the Peak District.

Who inspired you most as a student?

My supervisor, Phil Grime.

Are you attending #BES2018? If so, when is the best opportunity for people to meet you?

I’ll be at the speed review session at the BES stand from 18.30 to 19.15 on Monday. I’m also doing the 12 months in ecology plenary, so you can’t miss me.

When was the last time you had a paper rejected?

Happens all the time.

If you could wake up tomorrow with a new skill, what would it be?

The list of things I can only do badly or not at all is very long, but it would have to be play the piano (which at the moment I can’t do even badly).


The Dolomites (Credit: Beatrice Porcellato)
The Dolomites (Credit: Beatrice Porcellato)

What’s your favourite sports team and why?

Plymouth Argyle. My sons both grew up in Plymouth supporting Argyle, and it sort of rubbed off.

If you could recommend one place for people to travel to on holiday, where would it be and why?

The Dolomites, for the fantastic display of flowers.

What was the first album you owned?

I honestly can’t remember, but two of the first, bought at about the same time, were Transformer (Lou Reed) and Ziggy Stardust (Davie Bowie).

If any fictional character could join your lab, who would it be and why?

No-one comes immediately to mind, so I think I’ll skip this one.

Ken works in the Department of Animal and Plant Sciences, University of Sheffield, UK. He devised the widely-used scheme for classifying soil seed banks and is the author of the standard work on European soil seed banks. While retaining an interest in all aspects of seed ecology, he has published widely on almost all aspects of plant ecology, particularly on plant functional types, commonness and rarity, invasive plants, urban ecology and prediction of the response of regional and national floras to changing climate and land use. Ken has been an editor on Functional Ecology since 2004.

2 thoughts on “Meet the Editors: Ken Thompson

  1. To Ken. I just finished reading “Camels” and appreciated it very much. One though though about tamarisk. You don’t mention that it has change access to the streams that it infests. (Loaded word I know.) In some places in the Green/Colorado basin one must (and that includes local wildlife) go hundreds of yards, possibly miles, up or down stream to reach the water that was formerly reachable through the “native” cottonwoods and willows. While I confess to be unsure how much that has altered the distribution of the wildlife we certainly are less likely to see them from the river. One thing for sure, it annoys the fishermen, the truly invasive species.


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