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Reflections on Toby Schuh: his person, his accomplishments, his ways.

Randall Tobias Schuh (aka "Toby"), now Curator Emeritus of The American Museum of Natural History in the Division of Invertebrate Zoology, was the George T. Willett Curator of Hemiptera and "Minor Orders" when I first met him to apply for the position of Scientific Assistant many years ago. This tall, slender and rather soft-spoken man with a short pony-tail, glasses, denim jeans and pointed cowboy boots handed me a drawer of insect specimens and asked me to identify them to family. I was sweating profusely about the request, but once Toby uttered "Well, that was pretty good, Christine," my successful interview with Toby ended with a long, cordial conversation that was indicative of conversations for years to come, conversations peppered with his unique sense of quiet humor that still have me laughing today.

I have known and worked on and off for Toby since 1997. Through the years, little of my first impression of him has changed. He adores his mirids, his saldids and his heteropteran systematics. His eyes glaze over if you talk a little too long (for him) about animal behavior or ecology. He is quite adept at identifying plant families, although he will understate his ability. And, the collection of Hemiptera/Heteroptera at The American Museum of Natural History is something of which he is very proud. And, he should be.

Toby began his tenure at the AMNH when it was still the Department of Entomology in 1972. Since then, his personal efforts along with the joint efforts of Toby's many collaborators have expanded the AMNH collection of mirids, saldids and other Heteroptera from the western U.S., Mexico, and the Southern Hemisphere on three continents, South America, Australia and Africa, by the hundreds of thousands. He also recognized the value of other collections from parts of the world that were underrepresented in the AMNH collection and heteropterists / hemipterists enthusiastically deposited their collections at AMNH, confident that Toby would insure the specimens a worthy final resting place. Toby acquired the Rauno Linnavuori collection, which expanded a large number of families of Hemiptera from areas in the Middle East and northeast Africa that few dared to venture. James Slater, Toby's Ph.D. advisor and mentor, bequeathed his world-wide lygaeoid collection of around 100K specimens. Some of the smaller but equally noteworthy collections now at AMNH are from Igor Sienkiewicz, representing little known eastern European regions and the Palearctic in general, and G. G. E Scudder with specimens from remote areas in the USSR, Africa, Southeast Asia and Central America. Finally, but not least, Toby ensured the massive beetle collection of his father, Joe Schuh, an entomologist at Oregon State University, graced our collections. Many of these donations, bequests, and purchases increased the AMNH type collection by 1,300 or more.

Of course, adding specimens to the AMNH collection can almost be considered the least of Toby's accomplishments. Toby produced one of the first comprehensive textbooks on systematics "Biological Systematics: Principles and Applications" (Schuh, 2001) that is now in its second edition with the addition of co-author Andrew Brower (Schuh and Brower, 2009). True Bugs of the World (Hemiptera: Heteroptera): Classification and Natural History (Schuh and Slater, 1995) remains a standard reference for the identification and basic biology of Heteroptera. Nearly 100 scientific papers published by Toby alone or jointly describe over 600 species of Orthotylinae, Phylinae, Thaumastocoridae or Saldidae, examine heteropteran phylogenetics, identify synonymies and homonymies, or designate lectotypes or neotypes. You will never find a Schuh allotype, as to Toby, this is just a female paratype. However, you will find at least 17,265 paratypes with the Schuh name attached, as the Schuh method is to designate this status to all the specimens of a species examined.

In 1995, Toby's systematic catalog of Miridae was published. Shortly thereafter, Toby was already embarking on his idea of creating an online systematic catalog that would be linked to a relational database and easily updated, a function he considered essential due to the dynamic nature of taxonomy. The process was not an easy one, but today, with Toby's typical perseverance, the online-catalog is an easy-to-use and frequently used resource that also provides links to PDFs of openly available publications.

And there were more examples of Toby's foresight into the future of collections and specimen management to come. Toby served two extended non-consecutive terms as Chair, first when Entomology was its own department and later when Entomology merged into a division with Invertebrate Zoology. During his second term, one major goal was to address the ever increasing need to manage our natural history collections properly, from tracking loans to processing accessions and the associated paperwork. A history of loan/visitor correspondence was transformed into records in an Access relational database, where almost everything from the shipping date to tracking number could be recorded and retrieved. During this same time in 2003, Toby received a National Science Foundation Planetary Biodiversity Inventory grant with his long-time collaborator and friend, Gerry Cassis. Together, they formed a team of researchers that consisted of two additional senior investigators (Thomas Henry, Michael Schwartz), four postdoctoral fellows (Fedor Konstantinov, Michael Wall, Christiane Weirauch, Denise Wyniger), three Ph.D. students (Dimitri Forero, Katrina Menard, Nik Tatarnic), and a multitude of support staff to work on the phylogenetics of the monophyletic plant bug subfamilies Orthotylinae and Phylinae and document their host plant associations. The end products of this effort reflect a remarkable productivity during the life-span of the grant: An online specimen database that can be accessed from anywhere in the world and currently holds information for over 781,000 specimens, which include spiders, bees, and scorpions, and host plants; a collection of 400,000 prepared insect specimens and around 2,340 vouchered host plants from around the world; and an astonishing 68 publications.

Toby's circle of colleagues extends far and wide and part of the reason is due to Toby's generosity not only as a friend but as a scientist. He is supportive and encouraging and wants those around him to succeed. He opens his home to visitors for extended stays and to local friends for fantastic meals that often include a special treat, such as cheddar-cheese, made by his delightful wife, Brenda. Toby is a wonderful father, who has shared his daughter, Ella, through his stories or by having her sort bugs in my office. One memorable moment was when Toby asked Tam Nguyen and me to watch over Ella one evening when she was around 8. We went to the Great Burrito restaurant and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves (yes, Ella was fun to talk to even then). The next day, we told Toby where we went and what she ate (an entire large burrito), as Tam and I were so astonished how much a little 8-year old could eat. Toby just tilted his head, smiled a bit, and in his quiet voice calmly said, "Well, Christine, we usually don't let her eat that much." Tam and I laughed over that for years.

When Toby hired me in 1997, he took a chance. I had had only one entomology class and my undergraduate degree was in psychology. But Toby gives chances and people benefit from them. Since then, I have learned a great deal from him, sometimes merely from Toby's desire to achieve something. He had told me when I started applying for post-doctoral positions after I finished my Ph.D. and was still working for Toby as his Scientific Assistant that he didn't want me to leave and that it was both easy and difficult to tell my prospective employer my merits. But he did, I was hired and I left. However, quite a few years later, I also came back to Toby, and it was like coming home. I am no longer Toby's Scientific Assistant, yet we still work together on the Thematic Collections Network Tritrophic Digitization project. Yes, this is just another one of Toby's great ideas that was funded by NSF to extend the digitization of natural history collection specimens to include not only plant bugs and their host plants, but their parasitoids as well. Toby is now officially retired and he says this is his last grant, but really, who knows?

In May of 2013, Toby Schuh will turn 70. It has been an absolute honor for me to have worked on this Festschrift for him and his years of dedication and contributions. Influential is a powerful word, and it is the rare person who can be considered influential. But Toby is one of those people. From Toby's science to his chairmanships at The American Museum of Natural History to his role as an advisor and mentor to students and post-docs to his dissemination of electronic specimen information to his friendships, Toby has had a positive and long-lasting influence. Happy Birthday, Toby.

Sincerely, Christine

--Christine A. Johnson, The American Museum of Natural History, Division of Invertebrate Zoology, Central park West at 79th Street, NYC, NY 10024, email:
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Title Annotation:Randall Tobius Schuh
Author:Johnson, Christine A.
Publication:Entomologica Americana
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2012
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