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Dr. Richard L. Hoffman and his Contributions to Radford University
Michelle Ferguson (2013)
Dr. Richard Lawrence Hoffman (Figure 1) was born in Clifton Forge, Virginia, on September 25, 1927. He was the son of Harry and Amye Hoffman (No Author 2012). Dr. Hoffman had an enthusiastic view on biology, and began to write nature essays in “The Daily News” at the age of 16 (Evans 2010). He received his undergraduate degree in Biology at the University of Virginia, Master’s degree in Entomology at Cornell University, and his Doctorate in Zoology from Virginia Tech (No Author 2012). Dr. Hoffman taught at Radford University (RU) from 1960 to 1988. During these 28 years, he taught various senior and graduate courses in Biology including entomology, herpetology, and mammalogy. In 1989, he joined the Virginia Museum of Natural History (VMNH, Martinsville, Virginia) as a curator of invertebrates (Hoffman, personal communication, 2008). While at VMNH, he gained the notoriety of being an international-millipede expert (No Author 2012). During his lifetime, he published over 485 papers and books, and has identified hundreds of new taxa (Evans 2010). He died on June 10, 2012, at the age of 84 (Harris 2012).
Hoffman’s Contributions to Radford’s Collection
Dr. Hoffman, 28 years at then-Radford College, contributed greatly to our museum (Figure, left, from The Beehive, 1963). Thousands of specimens in the collection today stem from field work by Hoffman and his students during the 1960s and 1970s. He faced many difficulties when he arrived to RC/RU, like having the original tags replaced with “random” numbers, or specimens lost/ becoming unsalvageable (Hoffman and Mitchell 1994; and Hoffman, personal communication 2008).
Dr. Hoffman’s contributions to the Natural History Museuminclude various plants, such as Silene virginica, Viburnum acerifolium, Diphylleia cymosa, various Carex spp., and much more. His animal contributions include salamanders, frogs, and toads, as well as a plethora of exceptionally well-curated insects.
According to personal communication between Dr. Hoffman and Dr. Karen Francl (Associate Professor of Biology, curator of the collection), Dr. Hoffman said the collection had more specimens several decades earlier. When Dr. Francl arrived to RU, she took the initiative to curate and restore the museum’s collection. Unfortunately, the time in between Dr. Hoffman’s departure and Francl’s arrival was 18 years. Years of collection neglect led to missing and unsalvageable specimens and confusing tags (Hoffman, personal communication 2008).
Other Collection Contributions and Research
Words cannot describe how much Dr. Richard Hoffman has contributed to the ecological aspect of biology. He has written hundreds of published papers on his taxonomic findings and their significance to the world. He had various contributions during his lifetime and has worked in different fields such as herpetology, myriapodology (millipedes), entomology, crustacean biology, and much more (Evans 2010). While working at the VMNH from 1989 until his passing, he became most importantly known as an expert myriapodologist (No Author 2012). All of Dr. Hoffman’s hard work throughout the years resulted in the findings of an astounding amount of 600 new taxa. “Nearly 50 taxa have been described in his honor in recognition of his prodigious work and broad contributions as a scientist, teacher, mentor, editor, curator, conservationist” (Evans 2010).
How Dr. Hoffman and the Importance of Biodiversity are Connected
Dr. Hoffman contributed so much information in terms of taxonomy. A problem we are facing today is the lack of taxonomists like him. There are so many living organisms out there that we lack the knowledge to identify (Dubois 2010). We are on a time constraint because of the biodiversity crisis (Wilson 1985). Our biodiversity of organisms is being lost due to habitat destruction, pollution, over-exploitation, invasive species, and more (Dubois 2010). While this is occurring, we need qualified biologists to correctly identify species before they cease to exist. Teaching the next generation of natural history enthusiasts and taxonomists/systematists can be possible through education (starting in college, if not earlier), proper funding for graduate opportunities (Christie et al. 2012), and finding a way to link the specimens in our collection with an understanding of and appreciation for local and global biodiversity.
Christie, M., Fazey, I., Cooper, R., Hyde, T., & Kenter, J. O. 2012. An evaluation of monetary and non-monetary techniques for assessing the importance of biodiversity and ecosystem services to people in countries with developing economies. Ecological Economics, 83, 69-80.
Dubois, A. 2010. Taxonomy in the century of extinctions: taxonomic gap, taxonomic impediment, taxonomic urgency. TAPROBANICA: The Journal of Asian Biodiversity, 2(1): 1-5.
Evans, A.V. 2010. Reviews- a lifetime of contributions to myriapodology and the natural history of Virginia: a festschrift in honor of Richard L. Hoffman’s 80th birthday. Banisteria 35: 70-71.
Harris, Jill (2012). [Nhcoll-l] FW: Sad News: World-renowned curator Dr. Richard L. Hoffman dies following heart surgery. [ONLINE] Available at: http://mailman.yale.edu/pipermail/nhcoll-l/2012-June/006102.html. [Last Accessed 15 February 2013].
Hoffman, R.L. and J.C. Mitchell. 1994. Paul R. Burch’s herpetological collection at Radford College, Virginia: a valuable resource lost. Catesbeiana 14(1): 3-12.
No Author. 2012. Obituaries: Richard Lawrence Hoffman. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.johnmoakey.com/fh/obituaries/obituary.cfm?o_id=1504273&fh_id=12548. [Last Accessed 15 February 2013].
Wilson, E. O., 1985. The global biodiversity crisis: a challenge to science. Issues in Science & Technology, 2: 20–29.