Homage to Sonia Dietrich and to Leopoldo Magno Coutinho



On August 10, 2012, the beloved Dr. Sonia Dietrich died. Marcos S. Buckeridge and Márcia R. Braga, her two disciples, and SBSP members prepared her obituary hat was published in the BrazJBot 35(3), 2012. They described with high sensibility the special friend she was, so devoted in the Botany researches and in the new researchers training in Brazil and others Latino America countries. She was a friend very active, enthusiastic, engaged and delighful, with a sensitive intelligence and gentle friendship.
During the last years, Dr Sonia headed the labor to revitalize the SBSP and its journal BrazJBot. The Springer contract signature, as SBSP President and BrazJBot Editor-in-Chief, was one of the lastest Dr Sonia achievements, with the Vice-President Dr Carlos Martinez, before her abrupt passing.



Prof. Dr. Leopoldo Magno Coutinho was born in the city of Franca, São Paulo state, where he spent his childhood and began his studies at the College Champagnat. When he was 17 years old, he came to São Paulo in order to finish high school and to prepare himself for college entrance. Since he was a child, Leo (as he preferred to be called by his colleagues, friends and students) showed interest in nature. The choice of the course of Natural History at the former School of Philosophy, Sciences and Letters of the University of São Paulo was very natural and never regretted. In the first year of college (1953), he started an internship at the Butantan Institute in São Paulo, at the laboratory of electronic microscopy. Soon he realized his great affinity to Botany. Therefore, he started an internship in the laboratory of Prof. Dra. Mercedes-Rachid Edwards and in 1955, together with his adviser and other collaborators, he was co-author of the first paper about the work in Brazil using electron microscopy concerned to plants. While still a student, Leo was Laboratory Technician Assistant in the Department of Botany and after graduating in 1957, he was hired as one of the Assistants of Prof. Dr. Mário Guimarães Ferri, Cathedratic Professor of the same Department. Together with Dr. Ferri, Prof. Coutinho began his studies in ecology of cerrado (savannah). At the time of choosing the subject of his Doctoral Thesis, he faced the challenge posed by Dr. Ferri: to study the ecosystem of the Atlantic Rainforest, which is a very different biome than the cerrado environment. He studied the water balance of several plant species in the Reserva Biológica do Alto de Paranapiacana, in São Paulo State, and made an important scientific discovery: some bromeliads and orchids of the Atlantic Rainforest assimilate CO2 at night, that is CAM metabolism (crassulacean Acid Metabolism ) described so far only in drought-resistant desert succulent. It was demonstrated that the plant juiciness is not an indispensable condition for the occurrence of this type of metabolism. After finishing the Doctoral Thesis, Prof. Coutinho spent a year in Stuttgart, Germany, under the supervision of Prof. Dr. Heinrich Walter, an internationally renowned ecologist. With the curriculum changes of the Biology graduate courses at the University of São Paulo (USP) in 1964, the discipline of Plant Ecology was created, which was taught by Prof. Coutinho and collaborators. Professor Leo firmly believed that the experiences of the students in the field were as or more important than learning in the classroom. Thus, in addition to theoretical and practical classes, there were always three mandatory tours for students: Atlantic rainforest, cerrado and dunes and sandbank. It was after one of these excursions to the cerrado with students in 1969, that an unexpected fact occurred. The area had been burned a few days ago, making any botanical field work very difficult. Based on his large experience, Prof. Coutinho used this incident to show to his students several adaptations of the cerrado plants to the fire, including the synchronized flowering of several species. The ecological role of fire in the flowering savanna species was the subject of his Full Professor Thesis (“Tese de Livre-Docência”) and started a new research line in the Department of Ecology of USP: the effects of fire in the cerrado biome. There were several years of work and field observations, and nowadays Prof. Coutinho is considered the greatest expert in the burning effects on vegetation in the Cerrado and defender of the idea that fire management in the Cerrado is necessary for the maintenance of the flora and fauna of this biome. In 1977 he was invited to create and to organize the Department of Ecology of the State University of São Paulo - UNESP in the campus of Rio Claro, SP, that probably contributed for the start point of the current graduate course of Ecology. The participation in scientific meetings in Brazil and abroad led him to know different natural areas, such as deserts and savannas of Africa, beech forest, the Venezuelan moorlands, the savanna, the Amazon forest. Prof. Coutinho took part with equal enthusiasm on meetings in the Senate or in local student´s scientific events organized by students in several regions of Brazil, always captivating the audience with his simple way, his firm opinions and his expertise on the subject. Prof. Coutinho was a demanding advisor with his students and had excellent teaching skills. His lectures were well illustrated, thought-provoking, and he was always ready to answer questions addressed to him. During over than 35 years as a teacher, he had thousands of students and influenced many to follow in his footsteps in the field of ecology. When he retired from USP in 1987, he continued for several years to offer courses in graduate schools, one of which, very sought after, the National Park of Emas in the state of Goiás, and gave a cultural diffusion course, open to the overall public, about the ecology of the main Brazilian biomes. He supervised several dissertations and doctoral thesis, participated in numerous examinations boards for scientific monographs, thesis and contests, and was a member of the advisory committee of CNPq. He has published over 50 scientific papers, several popular articles, a site about the Cerrado (www.eco.usp.br/cerrado) and a textbook on botany for high school. He leaft an unpublished book "The main biomes in Brazil, "written in the last year of his life, with the intention to explain to students and to the general public, about the international concept of biome, which has been almost trivialized by the media. What best characterizes him? From a professional point of view, it was difficult to separate the teacher from the researcher. His contribution to ecology is unquestionable. He loved to teach and had a special talent for it. To go to the field with him was an unforgettable and enriching experience. Being shy and taciturn, he liked to tell stories of his childhood in Franca and easily came to tears when he heard beautiful music or to a good performer, and always had fun with a good joke. He was a born naturalist: loved nature, especially plants and birds, whose singing he liked to hear and to imitate. Once he mentioned that he never worked in life, because for him, his work was always a great fun.

Lilian B. P. Zaidan