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William Coffman, chironomid authority, 1942-2013

Published On: 2/11/2013

William Coffman, authority on chironomids, 1942-2013

Dr. William P. Coffman was well known to SFS members as the author of the Chironomid Pupal Keys found in the Merritt and Cummins book Aquatic Insects of North America. After graduating from Thiel College in Pennsylvania, Bill became a grad student in the lab of Professor Kenneth Cummins at the University of Pittsburgh. The University of Pittsburgh’s Pymatuning Laboratory of Ecology is where Bill Coffman began working on midges and they became his life’s work. After receiving his PhD at Pitt, he spent several years at the Max Plank Institute in Plon, Germany continuing his work on midges. He then returned to the University of Pittsburgh’s Biology Department where he was a professor for 43 years. Bill Coffman was the author of numerous peer-reviewed papers; his many graduate students have continued in his footsteps working on Chironomidae.

Bill Coffman was a long-time member of NABS/SFS and encouraged all of his graduate students to attend the annual meetings. He often commented to his students and anyone who would listen that “if you sample a water body and the predominant residents were not midges, you probably didn’t look hard enough”. He was a strong advocate for collections of relatively easily identified Chironomidae pupal exuviae. During these SFS meetings, Bill would bring along a microscope to share his newly discovered midges with other chironomid experts like Sam Roback, Ole Saether, Jim Sublette, Bill Beck, and Laverne Curry. These “sharing sessions” were the predecessor to the annual Taxonomic Fair held at current SFS meetings. Fred Benfield noted that Bill Coffman usually wore a blue blazer to the NABS meetings and always looked “dressed-up” at the very casual meetings. Bill Coffman’s life-long work has been honored by having a genus of midges named after him (Coffmania) and a species named Robackia coffmanii.

His collection of slide-mounted pupal Chironomidae numbered more than 100,000 and included large numbers of undescribed species from North and South America. His slide collection, as well as his detailed notes and drawings now reside with the La Selva Biological Station of the Organization for Tropical Studies in Costa Rica. This extensive collection is available for researchers working on Chironomidae throughout the world.

Dr. William P. Coffman died on Friday, January 25th, 2013 at the age of 71. He is survived by his wife of 47 years, Paulette, his daughters Kendal Kadylak and Mara McManus , and his son Dr. Stephan Coffman.

Written by David Wartinbee, Kenai Peninsula College

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