“Understanding the distribution of organisms in small and large amounts of space and time. Benthic foraminifera. Statistics.”—This is Martin A. Buzas's succinct description of his research interests. How did Marty acquire these interests, and how did they develop in a near 60-year career at the Smithsonian Institution?
Marty received his post-high school education in the Navy, during the Korean War as a radio operator, and at the University of Connecticut (B.A. in Geology in 1958), Brown University (M.Sc. in Geology in 1960), and Yale University (Ph.D. in Geology in 1963). He married Barbara in 1958 and started a family, two actions that encouraged his rapid progress through higher education. At that point, simple employment was his goal. While at Yale he received the collective wisdom of three giants in disparate fields, paleontologist Karl Waage, ecologist G. Evelyn Hutchinson, and statistician Hilary Seal, experiences that greatly influenced his research in the following years.
Marty almost joined an oil company, which would have been a great loss to the science of micropaleontology, but instead in 1963 he accepted a position as Curator of Benthic Foraminifera at the Smithsonian Institution. The Department of Paleobiology was looking for a paleontologist with extensive quantitative skills, and Marty was the perfect fit. The fledgling field of quantitative paleontology had acquired one of its champions.
Over the next 59+ years, Marty published over 100 papers on benthic foraminifera, several of these in Science and Nature, and 15 book-scale monographs. Returning to Marty's own description of his research, the theme of micro- to macro-scale foraminiferal distributions runs through all of these works. At the micro-scale, and early in his career, he studied the distribution of foraminifera within a 10-cm2 area of the sea floor or cm by cm within a 20-cm core. He moved up to the meso-scale and quantified, through various
statistical and numerical approaches, the relationship of foraminiferal distributions and environmental variables in space and time. His use of the General Linear Model led to his hypothesis (with Lee-Ann Hayek) of pulsating patches, density differences of organisms in time and space, published in 2002. Further exemplification of this hypothesis in 2019 predicted that pulsating patches will characterize other groups of organisms. Marty's research is broadly significant far beyond foraminifera.
At the macro-scale, working with one of us (SJC), Marty defined the distribution of benthic foraminiferal provinces on the continental margins around North America and the Caribbean, based upon a series of large-scale databases compiled from the literature and subjected to extensive taxonomic standardization. These databases were compiled before PCs were available and before the internet age, and so were published in the 1980s as a series of books/monographs in the Smithsonian Contributions to the Marine Sciences series. Research based upon these compilations was published in Science and Nature with images of benthic foraminifera on the front cover of each journal—this gave Marty great pleasure. In 2000, macro-scale research was extended to the deep-sea with a paper on the diversity of foraminifera in the Atlantic Ocean Basin. Marty revisited this theme in the six months prior to his passing and wrote his last senior-authored paper, at the age of 88, on diversity of live foraminifera from the shelf, slope, and abyssal plain of the Atlantic Ocean Basin, based upon a database compiled by the late John W. Murray. Buzas and Culver coauthored over 50 papers during their 44-year collaboration.
In the mid-1990s, Marty began a fruitful collaboration with mathematical statistician Lee-Ann Hayek. Marty pioneered research into foraminiferal diversity in the late 1960s, but this research thread really took off with his collaboration with Hayek. The work they undertook is relevant to all types of organisms, not just foraminifera, and to fossils as well as living organisms. Most well-known is their textbook, described as a classic in the field, “Surveying Natural Populations,” published in 1997 with a second edition in 2010. Why the book is authored by Hayek and Buzas and not Buzas and Hayek is worth recounting. Hayek baulked at simple alphabetical order. So Marty and Lee-Ann played a game of chance. As Marty commented later, he had learned that “one should never play a game of chance with a professional mathematical statistician.” Other publications have wide significance in ecology and paleoecology. SHE analysis – again Lee-Ann's influence as Marty, straight-faced, noted that he wanted to call it HES analysis – was a new method of analyzing biodiversity, the result of Buzas and Hayek solving what had been called an intractable problem, determining the relative contributions of S (species richness) and E (species evenness) to any given value of H (the information function). Marty noted that he had learned something else, that “one should never play a game of chance with a female, professional mathematical statistician.”
A final comment on Marty's research—not too many of us exhibit the imagination and original thinking that Marty has demonstrated throughout his career. For example, and in roughly temporal order, he was one of the first to analyze paleontological data via statistical approaches; he was one of the first to utilize computers to enhance his analyses; he was one of the first paleontologists to quantify species diversity; he was one of the first to document the fact that benthic foraminifera could be infaunal; he was the first to run experiments (over 30 years!) that demonstrate the importance of biotic as well as abiotic factors on benthic foraminiferal densities and distributions; he was one of the first paleontologists to compile and utilize large datasets to address scientific questions in a more rigorous manner; he was one of the first to study the provincial scale of benthic foraminiferal distributions; he was the first to demonstrate the relationship between foraminiferal species duration and evolutionary patterns; he was the first to relate the concept of a species pool to foraminiferal community dynamics through time; he introduced a new way of analyzing species diversity; he introduced the concept of pulsating patches; and, as a foraminiferologist, he coauthored a classic ecological text based upon a database of trees!
When Marty began his career as Curator of Foraminifera at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, he was among the first to occupy the newly constructed east wing of the museum. This provided the opportunity for him to set up his office and the surrounding work and lab space for his research needs and to organize the Cushman Collection of Foraminifera in a way that would be most beneficial to visitors. His early planning and oversight paid off, as the >16,000 primary type specimens and >200,000 secondary types in the collections in lab aids are easy to access and find in their alphabetically ordered trays and through online searches of the records that he had computerized using a main frame computer database during the late 1960s. Marty made many other lasting contributions to the museum and to the museum culture, including powerfully advocating for independent basic research at the Smithsonian, and co-founding the NMNH Senate of Scientists. His dedication and leadership as Chair of the Paleobiology Department from 1977–1982 has had a positive influence that has lasted to this day. As one colleague stated, “Marty saw the value in the work and in the character of lots of people. The friendship that he was so ready to offer was available to everyone he worked with, from the cleaning staff to his professional colleagues.” Another colleague stated, “He upheld the highest standards in all arenas, and his legacy will continue to inspire us into the future.” Those who joined him for conversations over coffee or lunch at the table in his lab will always treasure his dry witticisms, observations, and wisdom on an infinite range of topics.
Marty influenced the wider paleontological field not only through his research but also through his teaching and mentoring: he taught classes at the Johns Hopkins University and George Washington University; he served as an Adjunct Professor at Clemson University, Old Dominion University and East Carolina University; and he mentored many graduate and postdoctoral students at the museum. Throughout his career, Marty was a member of the Paleontological Society, the Paleontological Society of Washington, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science who selected him as a Fellow. He also served as President-elect (1987–1988) and President (1988–1989) of the North American Micropaleontology Section of the Society of Economic Paleontologists and Mineralogists, and he was Chair, lead organizer, and host of the Sixth North American Paleontological Convention at the Smithsonian Institution in 1996. His service to the Cushman Foundation began when he joined the Board of Directors in 1971 and continued until his passing, and he served two terms as Vice President (1978–1979, 2001–2002) and President (1981–1982, 2002–2003). His lasting legacy to the Cushman Foundation is the Buzas Award for Travel to the Cushman Collection, which was established as an endowed gift from him and his family to ensure funds would be available for the use students and professional researchers who need to visit the Cushman Collection of Foraminifera and associated collections.
Marty received several major awards for his research contributions, the Joseph A. Cushman Award for excellence in foraminiferal research in 2004, the Paleontological Society Medal in 2004, and the Brady Medal of The Micropaleontological Society in 2015. But the recognitions he valued most highly were those of his former technicians, students, and post-docs. Many of them went on to become successful academics, and all of them appreciated the warmth and kindness of his mentorship, even though he was capable of sharp criticism. All were proud graduates from Marty's unique personal school of charm and tact. These close colleagues, the generations of Cushman Board members that Marty served with, and paleontologists around the world who knew him will miss Marty the scientist and Marty the man.
Marty Buzas passed away peacefully on November 8, 2022. He was preceded in death by his loving and much-loved wife, Barbara, in 2017, and is survived by his sisters Mary and Martha, children Pamela Stephens, Jeffrey Buzas, and Thomas Buzas, three grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren.
Editor's note: The July 2023 issue of JFR will be dedicated to Marty Buzas with a special collection of papers honoring his contributions to the study of foraminifera.
Stephen J. Culver
Department of Geological Sciences
East Carolina University
Greenville, North Carolina
Brian T. Huber
Department of Paleobiology
National Museum of Natural History