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Lynton Incoll

Lynton Douglas Incoll, BAgrSc, PhD

Lynton Incoll, former Principal Research Officer in the School of Biology, died on 23 February 2012.

Born in Dimboola in the state of Victoria, Australia, in 1937, Lynton Incoll read Agricultural Science at the University of Melbourne and, after graduating in 1959, completed a Dip Ed.  He taught Chemistry and Biology at secondary school level before reading for a PhD in Botany at Melbourne.  Awarded his doctorate in 1968, he took up a post-doctoral fellowship at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, in the USA.  He left this post on his appointment, in 1969, to a research fellowship in the then Department of Botany (later Plant Sciences) at Leeds.  Here, he joined the dynamic group of plant physiologists assembled by Harold Woolhouse.  Initially, he was engaged on a project, funded by an Agricultural Research Council grant, to investigate the physiological and biochemical mechanisms underlying the adaptation of pasture grasses to microecological conditions in the Pennines. 

During the course of the next fifteen years, Lynton achieved international recognition for his research into physiological processes that determine plant growth.  His work had two main themes: laboratory studies of photosynthesis and the distribution of photosynthates, and field studies of photosynthesis and stomatal physiology.  In part, his success was based on the meticulous care and precision which he invested in the development of the techniques needed to pursue his research; he became generally accepted as the leading authority on the techniques for measuring the gas exchange of plants in the field, and on the performance of laboratory experiments under simulated field conditions.  Several of his publications were recognised as outstanding contributions to the subject.  Published in 1968, an article on assimilate distribution and photosynthetic physiology was deemed a ‘citation classic’ by the Institute of Scientific Information in 1980, on the basis of the frequency with which it was cited.  Appointed Research Officer in 1972, Lynton was promoted to Senior Research Officer in 1977 and to Principal Research Officer in 1982.

In parallel with his own scholarship, Lynton Incoll helped galvanise the department’s overall research effort.  In 1970, he founded an ‘Ideas Group’, the meetings of which were given over to informal discussion of research proposals, problems and controversial papers.  Later, he took over the organisation of the research seminar programme and consolidated it as an established part of departmental life.  Research students and junior staff alike benefited from his concern for their academic and professional development, and his uncompromising insistence on intellectual rigour and the very highest of standards.  He also made a substantial contribution to the scientific community in the United Kingdom through the various roles that he assumed within the Society for Experimental Biology, notably its Environmental Physiology Group and Plant Biology Committee.

Lynton’s departmental responsibilities extended well beyond his research activities, taking in substantial involvement in teaching, the supervision of Final Year projects and management of the plant growth and workshop facilities.  He was consistently generous in his support of the staff responsible to him.  He was at the same time a pioneering spirit in recognising and responding to the endless vista of new opportunities offered by information technology.  These he embraced with characteristic tenacity.  Many major computing developments within his and allied departments bore the imprint of his know-how, energy and determination.  He represented his department on the University-wide Computing Service User Group from the beginning of the 1970s and later became its influential Chair.

Lynton’s research interests diversified from the early 1990s onwards, when, in conjunction with Simon Clark, he joined a large European project on desertification in the Mediterranean, the MEDALUS project.  He continued to work on photosynthesis and water relations of plants, but his interests expanded to wild species rather than crop species.  He also broadened his interests to plant-animal interactions in Spain, working with colleagues on ants and rabbits.

Concurrently with the work in Spain, Lynton further expanded his interests to include Agroforestry (the growing of crops and trees together on farmland, a practice common in the tropics but unusual in the temperate zone).  This came about when a colleague obtained a grant from the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society and asked if any other members of staff might wish to be involved.  Typically, Lynton not only volunteered to participate, but proved over the years to be the most constant in his involvement.  He successfully applied to DEFRA (the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) and the EU for grants to support his work on both the growth of trees and crops in Agroforestry systems and the distribution of invertebrates and small mammals within them.  Lynton developed an international reputation for his work in this area.  Although he retired from his University post in 2002, he remained very active in the UK Agroforestry Forum (later the Farm Woodland Forum), serving as its Chairman from 2002 to 2006.  In retirement, he also saw through to successful completion the final stages of an EU research grant.

Lynton championed the use of plant growth rooms and controlled environment facilities at a time of rapid advance in their development.  He was convenor, from 2001 onwards, of the UK Controlled Environment Users’ Group, which is represented on the International Committee on Controlled Environment Guidelines (ICCEG).  He was the inspiration for the publication by that committee in 2004 of guidelines which provide a set of standards for the conduct and reporting of experiments in plant growth rooms and chambers.  This was followed in 2008 by similar guidelines for experiments in plant tissue culture facilities.  His work was recognised by a Significant Contributor Award at the 2008 Annual Meeting of the NCERA-101/NCR-101 Committee on Controlled Environment Technology and Use at Cocoa Beach, Florida.  At the time of his death, his work on guidelines for experiments in greenhouses was nearing completion, and these are due to be published in 2012.

Refreshingly open and egalitarian in his outlook, Lynton was a well-known and well-liked figure around the University.  He was a frequent patron of the Senior Common Room and the Staff Centre, a habit he maintained uninterruptedly in retirement.  Wine ranked high among his interests.  Keen to share both his wealth of knowledge of the subject and his discriminating but never precious palate, he regularly organised wine-tastings for colleagues.

Lynton is survived by his wife, Nanette, daughter Justine and son David, and granddaughters Lucy and Holly.  The funeral service, followed by a celebration of Lynton’s life, took place on 5th March.