A PIONEER in the study of microscopic plants who worked for Windermere's Freshwater Biological Association for more than 30 years has died, aged 88.

Jack Talling FRS led studies on phytoplankton in the River Nile and the great lakes of the African Rift Valley, and made major contributions to the understanding of the functioning of the temperate lakes of the Lake District. He developed mathematical models of photosynthesis and growth of phytoplankton that have been applied worldwide.

Mr Talling, who was born in Grangetown on Teeside, North Yorkshire in 1929, produced more than 100 research papers over a 64 year period, with the last journal paper published at the age of 86.

His interest in nature was sparked by annual family holidays at a farm in mid-Swaledale in the Yorkshire Dales and by a series of 50 wild flower cigarette cards.

He was also taught by an inspiring teacher at Sir William Turner’s Grammar School, Cotham. The availability of two microscopes with slide-mounting tools and media, passed on by his amateur-microscopist father, triggered his interest in the microscopic life of ponds.

Three years at the University of Leeds (1947-1950) allowed his interest in plant science to flourish and led to the award of a first class honours degree in botany. A field trip during his degree to Wray Castle on the shores of Windermere, then the home of the Freshwater Biological Association (FBA), resulted in the publication of his first scientific paper and was the precursor of things to come.

Post graduate research at the FBA on the physiological ecology of planktonic algae shaped his scientific interests for the rest of his career.

In 1953, just after the award of his PhD by Leeds University, Mr Talling obtained a job at the University of Khartoum, Sudan. This afforded him opportunities to work in Africa before decolonisation, and to work almost unhindered compared to the constraints of the modern day scientist.

A newly created Hydrobiological Research Unit led by Julian Rzóska led to the scientific exploration of the Upper Nile. Here he traced the distribution and periodicity of the phytoplankton on the White Nile and Blue Nile.

After leaving Khartoum in 1956, Mr Talling returned to the FBA where he wrote up his African work and then moved to the Scripps Institute of Oceanography in California in 1957 to take up a post-doctoral fellowship. Here he plunged into oceanography and obtained information on rates of photosynthesis versus light intensity from experiments in both laboratory and ocean.

During his time in California he met his wife to be, an Icelandic scientist, Ida Bjornsson. Leaving California, Mr Talling returned to the post of ‘algal physiologist’ on the staff of the FBA in 1958. His enthusiasm for Africa remained undiminished however, and in 1960/61 Jack and Ida spent 14 months at Jinja, Uganda, working at the East Africa Freshwater Fisheries Research Organisation on Lake Victoria. His studies on African lakes and river, along with the work of other contemporaries, laid the foundation for today's knowledge of the African aquatic science

On returning to the FBA, Mr Talling developed a new area of research into the CO2-growth relationships of phytoplankton, stimulated in part by earlier observations in productive but highly alkaline waters in Africa. He also initiated a broad interdisciplinary study on Esthwaite Water.

Mr Talling developed many novel methods to answer specific science questions during his career, ranging from assessing water colour in Africa using a standard of diluted whisky to developing electrochemical methods to measure primary productivity. He also co-authored a very influential lab handbook on water analysis published by the FBA. The importance and quality of Mr Talling's science as a master limnologist was recognised with his election to the Royal Society in 1978 and his award by the International Society of Limnology of the Naumann-Thienemann medal in 1989.

Mr Talling worked at the FBA at Windermere for 31 years. In the late '80s, the finances of the FBA began to decline and unselfishly Mr Talling helped by undertaking research contracts for the water industry and environment agencies on the larger lakes of the Lake District. Closer to his heart were surveys of rivers with sources in the high Pennines, and an assessment of the upland Malham Tarn, which enabled him to return to the Yorkshire uplands he had known as a boy. Upon his retirement he continued as an FBA Honorary Research Fellow and subsequently became a vice president of the association in 1996.

Mr Talling spent much of his time encouraging young scientists and refereeing for scientific journals. He had a knack of doing critical experiments which unlocked results that others had overlooked and a steely, incisive mind which others could suffer from. Outside the laboratory he was a totally different person: witty, social and generous. He was always keen to take visiting scientists from abroad on tours of his beloved Yorkshire.

As well as passing on his deep seated enthusiasm for the natural world he took a keen interest in his daughter’s horse riding and his son's fell walking. In latter times, he withstood his age-related illnesses extremely stoically but nevertheless continued to publish research and reviews.

He will be missed by his wife Ida, children Thora and Peter, and his many scientific friends and colleagues from around the world.