Sarah Martha Baker

Seaweed (algae) communities are based on their physiological capabilities

contributed by Eric LoPresti @Saab95adventure


Aquatic, Ecology, Europe, Experimental, Field, Fundamental research, Historical figure, Lab, Marine, Observational, Physiological/organismal ecology, Plants, Quaker, Religion and spirituality, Woman


View and download in google slides here

Note: click the gear symbol or see below for notes that accompany the presentation

Other Resources

Baker, Sarah M. 1909. On the causes of the zoning of brown seaweeds on the seashore. New Phytologist 8(5-6):196-202.

Presentation Notes

Researcher’s Background

Sarah Martha Baker was a community ecologist who did seminal research on algal zonation in the early 1900’s. 

There are no known photographs or portraits of Sarah. Instead are the two photos from her Wikipedia page showing one of the seaweeds she studied (Fucus vesiculosus), and one of her field sites (Whitecliff Bay).

Biography in brief

SMB was a Quaker botanist. She attended University College London, then received her PhD from the same institution (the first English university to admit women!). She was elected to the prestigious Linnean Society and the council of the British Ecological Society. She died young (age 30) with an obituary in the New York Times claiming “overwork” as her cause of death. 

Axes of identity & underrepresentation

Sarah Martha Baker was awarded prestigious honors and well-regarded, but it would be hard to know if she would have gone farther or the work would have gotten more citations if she were male. Her work should be taught with the “classical” example of Connell’s barnacles. They tell slightly different stories (and he was able to do more experiments, working on his system for longer), but hers definitely laid the foundation for those studies and many (all?) later intertidal work. 

Research Overview

Take home message of study

SMB noticed that algae along the British coast has distinct zonation patterns. She grew the high and low species in jars varying the amount of wet and dry they got (based on high and low tide positions) and found that the species in the upper zone were far more tolerant of desiccation than those in the lower zone. 

Study system

This “figure” is a photo of the algae she grew with 11 hours of dry and 1 hour of wet. Note that the bottom plants (high intertidal species) all did fine and the top (low intertidal species) did not. 

Key Research Points

Main contributions/Key Figure

The figure is showing the zonation patterns on the seashore which she observed. 

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