Alain Dubois et Roger Bour

Maxime Lamotte died on 31 August 2007 in Collobrières in southern France. He was born in Paris on 26 June 1920.
After brilliant studies in the famous high schools Henri IV and Saint-Louis in Paris, and then in the Paris Ecole Normale Supérieure (ENS), he obtained both his degree of « Docteur ès Sciences » and « Agrégé de l’Université » (the latter as « major » at the national level in France).
In 1944 he was nominated as « Agrégé préparateur » at the department of zoology of the ENS, then assistant in genetics at the Paris University in 1949, professor at the University of Lille in northern France in 1953, professor at the Paris University and the ENS in 1956and emeritus professor at the Pierre et Marie Curie University in Paris in 1988.

It is difficult to summarize his contribution to biology as he was at the same time a theoretician, a field naturalist and a research organizer. His thesis, defended in 1951 at the ENS, dealt with the genetic structure of natural populations of the snail Cepaea nemoralis. In this work, he was the first to estimate allelic frequencies in many populations to test the Sewall Wright models of Darwinian selection. The results of this thesis launched the first large scientific controversy on the respective roles of random drift and natural selection in evolution, at the 1959 Cold Spring Harbor Symposium on Quantitative Biology, attented by Theodosius Dobzhansky, Ernst Mayr, George Simpson, Bernhard Rensch, Leigh Van Valen and Sewall Wright among others (Cold Spring Harbor Symposia on Quantitative Biology, 1959, 24: 65-86).

His excellence in mathematics, as a pupil of Georges Teissier and a collaborator of Gustave Malécot, led him to write several textbooks of statistics. His Introduction à la biologie quantitative (1948) and his Initiation aux méthodes statistiques en biologie (1957) played a major role in the mathematical and methodological training and practice of generations of biologists in France and other French-speaking countries, especially in the fields of genetics, ecology and evolution.

His first trips to Africa on the Mount Nimba (Guinea), as soon as 1942, developed his particular interest for the zoology and ecology of this continent. After administrative groundwork in 1961, he started with Jean-Luc Tournier the ecological field station of Lamto (named after the first letters of their names) in Ivory Coast in February 1962. In this station, he launched and supported many works on the quantitative and descriptive ecology of the forest savannas. These studies which dealt whith many zoological groups, from earthworms to lizards, from spiders to crickets, fishes and birds, were also the basis for pioneer methodological works on sampling and data analysis in quantitative ecology, demography and productivity in terrestrial and aquatic habitats. He summarized some of these works, often in collaboration with François Bourlière, in a series of books (1967 to 1983) which were also a major source of training for many students and researchers in French-speaking countries.

From 1969 to 1984, he published several books about general problems of biology, dealing with the structure of the cell, sexual reproduction, laws and mechanisms of genetics, development and morphogenesis, and biological evolution. Several books published under his guidance by the Société zoologique de France where particularly successful among the French-speaking zoological community: the volume Le polymorphisme dans le règne animal (1974) and the three volumes co-edited with Charles Bocquet and Jean Génermont and entitled Les problèmes de l’espèce dans le règne animal (1976, 1977 and 1980). As stressed by Ernst Mayr in his review of the first two of the latter books (Systematic zoology, 1978, 27: 250-252), it is a real pity that they were never translated and published in English, as they contain a unique synthesis of many works written in many different languages in various countries (including eastern Europe) and there exists no equivalent in English language.

Beside being a theoretician, a mathematician, a methodologist, an organizer and a team leader, Maxime Lamotte was a very enthusiast field naturalist. All along his life, he collected specimens of many zoological groups in the many countries that he visited, and, after having kept them in the ENS for decades, he donated all these collections to the Paris Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle (MNHN), where they are available for study to the whole world researchers. Although his first interests were insects, his discovery in January-July 1942 on the Mount Nimba of the extraordinary viviparous toad, described in 1943 by Fernand Angel as Nectophrynoides occidentalis, drew his attention, not only to this species and its very particular biology (on which he had many developmental, ecological and physiological works carried out by several students and researchers from his laboratory) but also to the other amphibians, especially of the Mount Nimba and later of the Lamto region. With the collaboration of several colleagues, he was among the first batrachologists to pay attention to the tadpoles, as particular organisms worthy of interest for themselves, and to provide detailed descriptions of tadpoles referred to their proper species. He also worked on several groups of African ranids of difficult taxonomies, especially of the genera Ptychadena and Phrynobatrachus. Until his last years, he collected frog specimens, or had them collected, in various countries and habitats.

Maxime Lamotte was an exceptional teacher. He used a simple language to make even the most difficult questions accessible to many students. He was able to provide a clear presentation of any kind of biological subjects, even far from his own field of research. He had many students in genetics, population genetics, ecology, ecophysiology, physiology, and in taxonomy and evolutionary biology. Many of them are now prominent researchers or team leaders in various fields of biology in France and other countries.

Maxime Lamotte was of the « old tradition » of research in French biology, in the sense that all his life he insisted to publish in French – although he could read easily other languages and understand the scientific literature in English, Spanish and German. Unfortunately, few of his works have been translated or summarized in English, and many are largely ignored by the English-speaking community – which nowadays almost covers the whole scientific community. This fate was in part avoided to his works in taxonomy and tadpole morphology, as reading these papers, even in French, is almost inescapable for anyone working on these questions, but the same is not true of many of his works in quantitative ecology, theoretical evolution and systematics, and even on the biology of Nectophrynoides occidentalis. Publication of summaries and syntheses of these works in English would be useful endeavor.

Until his last days, Maxime Lamotte was an enthusiastic person. Although being a bright mind, a famous biologist (who was among the youngest professors in biology ever in France and had received many distinctions, especially in France and Belgium), he always remained a very simple fellow. All along his life, he encouraged many young students, but also amateurs and persons interested in animals although they had not chosen to make zoology their profession, to develop their curiosity, their interest in life in the wild, or simple « natural history » studies based on hard field work, patient observations, careful specimen collection and preservation. He was more interested in animals, their evolution, their adaptations and in biologists contributing to understanding and knowing them better, than in honors, fame and power. As such, he was a bit unusual in his own community, especially in the last decades, as such matters seem to have become a priority for many members of this community.

Maxime Lamotte was very fond of Collobrières, a village in southern France (Var) that he had discovered, by chance, at the end of the fifties. He owned a house in the center of the village which was a preferred place for the holidays of his numerous family: Maxime and Françoise, his wife, have six children followed by twenty-four little children. Early bird, Maxime Lamotte would often take a walk in the hills of the Maures and the discovery of a treefrog in the vegetation along a small stream, or of a tortoise first heard in the bushes of the maquis, was always a new pleasure to him. The scientist could not help but examining the shell of a snail, or reaping with large net casts a meadow full of orthopters: all the equipment, net, boxes of all kinds and even machete were always ready in his great rucksack. The evils of age forced him to limit progressively the length of these walks to his great sadness: Maxime would remain in the living-room, sitting in his armchair, surrounded by books and his dear African masks, always glad to receive a visitor, parent or friend, under the attentive look of Françoise.

He will be regretted by all those who had the pleasure to share his experience, benefit from his courses, or from his friendship and his support to their own projects.