Lester W. Burgess
Lester W. Burgess was born 18 February 1942, in New South Wales, Australia. He has spent his entire academic career associated with the University of Sydney where he received a B.S. degree in 1963 and a Ph.D. in 1968. After postdoctoral studies at the University of California-Berkeley, Cornell University, and the University of Melbourne, he was appointed as lecturer in plant pathology at the University of Sydney. He advanced through the ranks, becoming professor and dean of the faculty of agriculture in 1988, a position from which he stepped down in December 2000. He is presently professor of plant pathology and adjunct professor of plant pathology at Pennsylvania State University and Kansas State University. Professor Burgess is a fellow of the Australasian Plant Pathology Society and has served in all positions except treasurer. He will be president of that society during the International Plant Pathology Congress held in New Zealand in February 2003.
Professor Burgess has made important contributions to plant pathology in research, extension, and administration. He has been active in the international Fusarium research community. He assisted with the teaching of Fusarium laboratory workshops at the University of Sydney, Kansas State University, and Pennsylvania State University, and has written a laboratory manual that will be updated soon. These workshops have been of critical importance to the Fusarium research community, because they have maintained communication among the members and helped set common research agenda. Dr. Burgess helped begin the reappraisal of the Liseola and Elegans sections of the genus with the description of the new species, Fusarium nygami, indicating that species in these portions of the genus required revision and new descriptions. This process continues today and is particularly important to researchers in tropical and third world countries, where a significant number of species resemble common species in more temperate climates but need recognition as separate species. All of the species he has established are in general use today.
Dr. Burgess has studied the ecology of Fusarium spp. in both native grasslands and agriculturally important cereal crops such as wheat, maize, and sorghum. He and his colleagues pioneered climatic modeling for determining the expected distribution of Fusarium spp. He has conducted two large transect studies, each involving more than 10 years of field and laboratory work. A third transect study running through Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, and China is in progress. He also determined that the distribution of Fusarium spp. is often different in above- and below-ground plant parts, and that effective ecological studies necessarily differentiate among these and other microclimate factors. His approach to ecological studies has set the benchmark against which other work is compared and as a model for how such work should be conducted.
Professor Burgess’ wheat pathology research program is his most significant contribution to Australian agriculture. His taxonomic and ecological research feeds back to the Australian farmer. Crown rot, caused by F. pseudograminearum, is responsible for devastating losses in Australian wheat fields. Crop and stubble management concepts introduced by Dr. Burgess and his colleagues have reduced losses significantly. As a part of his research program, Professor Burgess maintains a cooperative network of private consultants and district agronomists, with over 150 sites for monitoring crown rot in New South Wales. The basic research by Professor Burgess and his colleagues determining the relationship between soil moisture and crown rot potential was critical to the success of the management program. They found that soil moisture is needed for infection, although white head formation, the consequence of crown rot, is favored by dry soil and drought stress. Dr. Burgess’ wheat research program serves as an extension program for much of the Wheat Belt in New South Wales, although Australia does not have a university-based extension program. He has had a long association with the grain industry and usually attends 10 to 15 field days and farmer meetings per year. In this role, he provides advice on crop rotation, variety selection, and agronomic practices in addition to diagnosing plant disease problems and conducting research to reduce their severity.
Professor Burgess maintains an active teaching program and has a slide collection that is used for teaching students in regular classes at the University of Sydney and international students who attend special master classes, which are full-time efforts in a focused area. He has produced a CD-ROM for the identification of soilborne plant diseases that is widely distributed throughout Southeast Asia and other regions of the world. His course on soil biology, which he continued to teach while serving as dean, is the only one in Australia to contain a major component on the control of soilborne plant pathogens.
Professor Burgess was elected twice and appointed once as dean of the faculty of agriculture at the University of Sydney. During his tenure, he maintained active research and teaching programs. He increased the quality and quantity of students in agriculture at the University of Sydney through the establishment of the Undergraduate Entry Scholarship, a Merit Scholarship, and an Undergraduate Achievers Program, which includes a field study in Central Australia that Dr. Burgess leads during winter break between semesters. He also helped establish and serves on the Board of Directors of the Sunprime Corporation, a joint venture between the University of Sydney and Graincorp, the largest grain handling company in Australia. Currently, Sunprime is the leading distributor of seed wheat in the country.
Professor Burgess has changed the way scientists in general, and plant pathologists in particular, approach speciation in Fusarium, and has inextricably linked ecological, pathological, and taxonomic studies in these fungi. He has provided exceptional service to Australian wheat farmers through his network of on-site collaborators, problem-oriented research, and the establishment of Sunprime Corporation. His enthusiasm as dean has reinvigorated his faculty and, while serving as dean, his research and teaching programs have flourished. Clearly, Lester Burgess embodies the essence of a well-rounded plant pathologist and is most worthy of the honor of APS Fellow.