ASPS Life Member Dr Mervyn Ludlow

ASPS Life Member

Dr Mervyn M Ludlow

Retired, Ex Division of Tropical Crops and Pastures, CSIRO, QLD

Dr Merv Ludlow became our inaugural Life Member in 1993 on the initiative of Professor Barry Osmond (then President, ASPP Inc), in recognition of both the scale and depth of his contributions to plant science. An outstanding student, Merv graduated from the University of Queensland in 1964 with 1st Class Honours in Agricultural Science and a University Medal. He completed his PhD in plant physiology with Graeme Wilson (UQ) in 1968, undertook postdoctoral experience with Paul Jarvis at the University of Aberdeen (1968-1970) and joined the then CSIRO Division of Tropical Pastures, Brisbane (1970-93) where he worked on the comparative growth physiology of tropical pasture plants, including studies on frost responses of tropical grasses and legumes, using equipment he devised to study radiation frosts in controlled environments.

With colleagues and visiting scientists, these studies led to new insights into adaptation mechanisms of tropical forage plants. In another early practical contribution, with John Troughton (DSIR, New Zealand) and Raymond Jones (CSIRO), Merv showed that carbon isotope ratios could be used to measure the balance of C3 and C4 species in tropical grass/legume pastures. Merv also devised and modified equipment and techniques to study whole-plant and canopy gas exchange, acclimation of plants to drought in both field and controlled environments and the role of stomatal response and osmotic adjustment in adaptation to water deficit.

Water stress avoidance and tolerance mechanisms became a focus of Merv’s research, especially as the direction of the Division turned increasingly towards tropical crops. He expanded his work to include tropical grain legumes, sorghum and kenaf, and later sugarcane. A much-deserved period of study leave in 1982, at the Carnegie Institute (on Stanford University campus) with Olle Björkman, led to a new focus on drought- and heat-induced photoinhibition, and on the ‘stress-response strategies’ of crop plants that conferred an advantage under adverse conditions. He worked with plant breeders to develop selection criteria for drought tolerance (especially in sorghum and soybeans); with ecologists, he undertook leading studies on defoliation of native and introduced grasses; and with agronomists he studied carbon and nitrogen cycling in run-down tropical pastures.

Dozens of collaborators worked with Merv in this vast range of endeavours. His career came to an untimely and abrupt end at just 51 after a debilitating stroke while on a bushwalking excursion in the rainforests at Binna Burra in southeastern Queensland. His 25-year research career produced more than 140, mostly multi-authored publications, including more than 60 of which he was senior author. By any measure his output was most distinguished, and his contribution helped shape the emerging disciplines of plant and environmental physiology at that time. Life Membership of ASPS is a fitting tribute to his enduring legacy.