Berry Pinshow

Berry Pinshow

As a youngster in South Africa, I was an inveterate twitcher; when I was 5 or 6, an uncle of mine, Sam Jaff put a pair of binocs in my hands and suggested that ID the birds in his garden.  I was one of those incredibly lucky people who managed to make his professional métier of his hobby – one might say that, as a result, I never did an honest day's work in my life. My scientific endeavors began as an undergraduate at Tel Aviv University where, under the tutelage of the late Professor Amiram Shkolnik, I became interested in the physiological adaptations of animals to life in deserts. Because of Professor Shkolnik's encouragement, I applied to Duke University to do my Ph.D. with Professor Knut Schmidt-Nielsen.

At Duke, as a beginning graduate student, I worked with Michael Fedak on the energetic cost of locomotion in 2 legged runners. The knowledge and insights that I gained while working with Fedak, along with my interest in environmental and comparative physiology led me to write a grant proposal to study the energetic costs of thermoregulation and locomotion in the emperor penguin, the only avian species that breeds regularly during the Antarctic winter. The proposal was funded by U. S. National Science Foundation and the study served as my Ph.D. thesis research.

Until I went to the Antarctic, my scientific interests were strongly physiological with a comparative approach. I was of the school that considered that through measurement of an animal's physiological responses to stress under controlled, precisely measurable, conditions in the laboratory, inferences could be made as to how animals survive in the wild. Thus, it was not too difficult to answer the question of how, from an energetic point of view, emperor penguins manage their seemingly daunting Antarctic winter breeding cycle. However, I was intrigued by the question of why these animals breed during the winter. The seeds of an approach that might be taken in answering this question were sown in my mind by Professor David Gates who visited Antarctica in his capacity as a science adviser to the President of the United States. He suggested that I address the question by building an animal-environment heat and mass exchange model. At the time, I was not equipped with the ecological tools or the background in physics necessary for the task. To rectify the situation I spent my post-doctoral study period in Warren Porter's Laboratory for Biophysical Ecology at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. The result was a partial answer to the above-posed question, but the question remains enigmatic.

During my "post-doc”, I developed my present perspective of, and approach to the study of animal adaptations to the environments which they inhabit. The approach is based on the use of physiological methods to address ecological questions.

I returned to Israel from the U.S. in 1977 to take up a joint appointment (Jacob Blaustein Institutes for Desert Research and the then Biology Department) at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. The rest is history, all in my CV.