ELTON,  Charles Sutherland   [1900 - 1991]

 Charles Sutherland Elton was born on 29th March 1900 in Manchester, moving to Liverpool in 1901 when his father, Oliver Elton, was appointed King Alfred Professor of English Literature in 1901. He attended Liverpool College from 1913 to 1918 and after briefly serving in the Royal Engineers he went up to New College, Oxford to read zoology. His tutor at Oxford was the evolutionary biologist Julian Huxley and Elton took the opportunity to be his assistant on three arctic expeditions between 1921-24 which greatly influenced his subsequent areas of research.

He was to spend the whole of his academic career at Oxford as senior research fellow of Corpus Christi College. He was a founder member of Oxford University Exploration Club in 1927. He published his first book, Animal Ecology in 1927, writing about general principles regulating animal communities. The work turned out to be a classic text, republished over 70 years later and translated into several languages.

He carried out research for many years into the fluctuation in numbers, and at times of plague, of animals and the importance of movements in their populations. His work particularly touched upon the impact of population cycles upon human communities, an example being the fluctuations in fur bearing animals in Labrador which greatly impacted the economic well-being of the area. This work led to his founding in 1932 of the Bureau of Animal Population and the Journal of Animal Ecology . During the Second World War this body was given the task of researching effective control of rodents and rabbits to protect food production. After the war he was involved in the committee work which led to the establishment of the Nature Conservancy Council in 1949.

Another area which attracted his attention was the subject of invasive species, maintaining that the huge increase in, and speed of, man’s mobility across the world had led to species becoming pests in their new homes and fundamentally changing food chains.

He received a host of honours and awards from bodies home and abroad. These included honorary membership of the  British Ecological Society (1960), fellowship of the Royal Society (1953) the Royal Society’s Darwin Medal (1970) and the Linnean Society’s gold medal (1967). Two ecological concepts bear his name, it being appended by later writers to the ‘Eltonian Pyramid of Numbers’ and the ‘Eltonian concept of Niche’. Additionally four animals bear his name: Camptocladius eltoni ( a midge); Micaria eltoni (a spider); Enchytraeus eltoni  (a worm); and Eutrombicula eltoni (a mite).

He married Rose Montague in 1928 but the marriage was dissolved amicably in 1937. His second wife was the poet (Edith) Joy Scovell, with whom he had two children. A son Robert Andrew and a daughter Catherine Ingrid who received and MBE in 2003 in recognition of her work in nursing on the island of Monserrat.

Charles Elton died in Oxford on 1st May 1991, aged 91. His Liverpool homes were 15 Parkfield Road L17;  35 Parkfield Road L17;  Wenstead, 22 North Road, Grassendale Park L19, and 1 Brompton Avenue L17.

15 Parkfield Road L17

The Elton family's first home in Liverpool.

35 Parkfield Road L17

Elton's home at the time he started to attend Liverpool College

'Wenstead', 22 North Road, Grassendale Park L19

The Elton home while he was at Oxford.

1 Brompton Avenue L17

The Elton family lived here briefly before moving to Oxford in 1925.


By far the best source on Charles Elton is the biography written by Sir Richard Southwood for the Royal Society which is available to read online on the JSTOR website.There is a comprehensive entry for Elton in the  Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. The Wikipedia entry is a reasonable summary of his career.