With deep sadness, we share that esteemed colleague John B. “Jack” Burch died Thursday, June 3, 2021 at the age of 92 after a long illness. He had been very well taken care of by his family and passed away peacefully in their company in Littleton, Colo. His devoted partner of 69 years, Peggy Burch, said that a memorial or celebration of life may be held at a later date due to the pandemic.

Burch had an extraordinary, long-lived, and highly influential career in science serving as professor and curator of mollusks at the University of Michigan since 1962 (Emeritus since 2001). Below is an outline of some career highlights, and his curriculum vitae for details.

John "Jack" Burch in the mollusk collection in the Museum of Zoology, Ruthven Building.

Burch had broad research interests in the biology of non-marine Mollusca, especially freshwater snails, and he made numerous significant contributions to their global study. Early in his career, a major focus was the application of karyological, serological, and tissue culture techniques to characterize the roles of intermediate snail hosts in the epidemiology of human schistosome parasites. This involved extensive field work throughout the tropics and lab work in Ann Arbor. One of his major immuno-cytological discoveries was the presence of cryptic diploid and polyploid (tetra/hexa/octoploid) lineages in populations of the important intermediate host Bulinus truncates/tropicus complex that were differentially susceptible to infection by human schistosome parasites. This seminal work led to years of research, supported by the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation and the World Health Organization, and international outreach, the latter involving numerous workshops on medical malacology as well as the training of scientists from a large diversity of countries.

In addition to his medical malacology research, Burch made many important basic science contributions to our fundamental knowledge of non-marine molluscan diversity in over 180 publications. He was also distinguished by his prodigious outreach and service to malacology as a discipline. One aspect of this was his exquisite guides to North American freshwater mollusks, Freshwater Unionacean Clams of North America, Freshwater Sphaeriacean Clams of North America, North American freshwater snails) and land snails, Land Snails of The University of Michigan Biological Station Area, Identification of Eastern North American Land Snails, How to Know Eastern Land Snails. Another was his astonishing record of founding four new malacological journals, one of which, Malacologia, currently the top-ranked Zoological journal by citation metrics, endures. The other three are now either transformed into a new entity, Walkerana, now Freshwater Mollusk Biology and Conservation), or, after decades of production, Malacological ReviewJournal of Medical and Applied Malacology, retired.

John "Jack" Burch.

Burch received these honorary lifetime memberships: American Malacological Society (2009), Malacological Society of Korea (1994), Malacological Society of the Philippines (1994). He was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award from The Freshwater Mollusk Conservation Society (1999) and a Special Recognition Award from The Science Society of Thailand (1995).

 “Jack was a tremendous inspiration and was always so encouraging and supportive to me and so many others at U-M and other institutes,” wrote EEB Professor and UMMZ Curator Tom Duda. “He was the impetus for several collaborative studies and projects with my students. His legacy will continue on through those he trained and the lives he touched.”

“Meeting Dr. Burch (and operating the slide projector during his talk) in South Korea was one of the main reasons why I came to the University of Michigan and studied malacology,” Taehwan Lee, EEB associate research scientist and collection manager, UMMZ, wrote. “He suggested that I start my Ph.D. study at the U-M Biological Station. There he not only taught me the natural history of invertebrates but showed the true attitude of a researcher by spending numerous hours collecting snails and clams together. Eating a banana split after checking the
'Man Killing Clam' was an unexpected sweet memory to a starting foreign student. Ever since, I have been fortunate to have received his constant guidance, support and friendship.”

“To paraphrase Shakespeare (Othello), Jack has done the state (of Malacology) some service, and they know’t. He will be missed,” EEB Professor and UMMZ Curator Diarmaid Ó Foighil, wrote in an email.  

In lieu of flowers, donations in his memory may be be made to The John B. Burch Malacology Fund, or to a charity of your choice.

Compiled by Diarmaid Ó Foighil and Gail Kuhnlein