Obituary: Professor Peter Jewell

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The Independent Online
SO MANY problems in biology require for their solution scientists who can cross between its sub-disciplines. Peter Jewell was such a one. Trained as a physiologist, he made his main contributions to ecology and conservation.

With two bachelor's degrees (in Agriculture from Reading and Physiology from Cambridge) and a Cambridge PhD in Physiology, Jewell held appointments as Lecturer in Pharmacology at the Royal Veterinary College, Research Fellow at the Zoological Society, Professor of Biology in Nigeria, Lecturer in Zoology at University College and Professor at the Royal Holloway College, London, and finally as Professor of the Physiology of Reproduction in Cambridge.

There are few who have contributed to so many fields of biology, yet there is a clear continuity between his early papers on dog and cat anatomy and pharmacology and his more recent papers on the ecology and conservation of large mammals.

Perhaps closest to his heart were his contributions to animal conservation. Effective conservation requires a deep understanding of the physiological and behavioural requirements of the species in question, and Peter Jewell's early work on the physiology of drinking and eating, coupled with his love and understanding of animals, put him in a very strong position.

To these he could add insights acquired in a ground-breaking series of studies of the population dynamics and inter-species relations of small mammals on islands: these were amongst the first studies to use the retrapping of marked animals to obtain data on how fecundity and breeding success varies with age. A visit to Africa in 1962 resulted in a series of papers by Jewell and his students on the ecology of African mammals, and on the management of large animals in game reserves, including reference to their interactions with the local human populations.

Of special importance were his studies of topi, a large African antelope, which demonstrated for the first fime in mammals a flexibility in social organisation according to environmental conditions. His interest in human-animal relations also led him into archaeology, where he published a number of papers on animal remains, some in collaboration with his wife, the biologist Juliet Clutton-Brock.

A second approach to conservation, of increasing importance throughout his life, involved work for the preservation of rare domesticated breeds. With the advent of mechanised farming, and the increasing standardisation of agricultural products, many breeds of domesticated animals have disappeared. Jewell's fascination with the contribution of animals to human culture and his joy in the diversity of the biological world resulted in his active participation in efforts to stop this trend.

As long ago as 1959 he became a member of the Zoological Society's Breeding Policy Committee and later the Gene Bank Sub-Committee. He made a major contribution to the foundation of the Rare Breeds' Survival Trust - the first national body attempting to conserve domestic livestock, which subsequently served as a model for comparable organisations in other countries.

His research on the physiology and population dynamics of Soay sheep - a breed domesticated in the Neolithic period - linked these two approaches to conservation. This extended over 30 years and was a landmark in ungulate studies. It again involved marked individuals and was carried out with a feral population on St Kilda.

Peter Jewell's early training as a physiologist was invaluable here too, and led him to combine experiment and observation. For example, he went to the heart of a current controversy concerning the relative roles of males and females in choosing their mates with a beautifully simple experiment: tethering rams in a field containing females, he was able to demonstrate the importance of female preference. Again, perplexed by the short life expectancy of the males, he was able to show that it was affected by their endocrine status: this experiment was completed only recently when the last male died at the considerable age of 19 years.

His enormous energy stood him in good stead in the field: a military paramedic called in when he was taken ill on St Kilda got a dusty answer when he tried to tell him that he was too old for fieldwork.

Jewell devoted a great deal of his time to helping and advising others, especially the many devoted students who are now making their own marks. He served on numerous academic committees, acting as a consultant in Britain and abroad, and assisting in surveys by the ODA and the EEC. But he was not only a scientist. His socialism and artistic interests gave him a fellow feeling for William Morris, and he not infrequently found himself in the position of defending the underprivileged. He enjoyed making his own greeting cards, and was keenly interested in ceramics.

Peter Jewell had been a student at St John's College, Cambridge, and he returned as a Fellow when appointed to his Cambridge Chair in 1977. He sat for a while on the College Council, and served on a number of college committees. His enthusiasm and his ability to listen, assimilate and reply made any discussion with him a pleasure: his unfailing good- humour and his kindness to both peers and juniors formed a lasting impression on all who knew him.

Peter Arundel Jewell, biologist: born London 16 June 1925; Lecturer, Royal Veterinary College (1950-60); Research Fellow, Zoological Society of London 1960-66; Professor of Biological Sciences, University of Nigeria 1966-67; Senior Lecturer and Director of Conservation Course, University College London 1967-72; Professor of Zoology, Royal Holloway College 1972- 77; Mary Marshall & Arthur Walton Professor of the Physiology of Reproduction, Cambridge University 1977-92 (Emeritus); Fellow, St John's College, Cambridge 1977-98; married 1958 Juliet Clutton- Brock (three daughters); died Cambridge 23 May 1998.