by John Lyons, Limnology News – Number 24, Fall 2015
Philip A. Cochran (PhD 1984), a CFL alumnus and former student of James Kitchell, died unexpectedly of a stroke on March 4, 2015. At the time, he was professor and chair of the Biology Department at St. Mary’s University in Winona, Minnesota. Although best known as a lamprey specialist, Phil had very broad interests and he taught and conducted research on many species and scientific topics over his career, producing over 100 peer-reviewed scientific papers and nearly as many semi-technical reports and popular publications.
Phil was born in the suburbs of Chicago, Illinois, in 1955 and grew up fascinated by the natural world. In 1973 he entered St. Mary’s University, studying biology. As an undergraduate he worked on a project sampling fish communities in backwaters of the Mississippi River and completed a thesis on the spiny softshell turtle. He graduated from St. Mary’s in 1977 with a BA in Biology and Environmental Science, awarded with high honors. Phil then moved to the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities where he completed an MS in Fisheries Science in 1980, studying largemouth bass. In 1980 he started at the CFL with James Kitchell. There he began his work on lampreys, focusing for his doctorate on the bioenergetics and feeding ecology of parasitic lampreys, particularly the invasive sea lamprey and the native chestnut lamprey. He also teamed with Dr. James Rice (MS 1983, PhD 1985; Kitchell) to use the largemouth bass data from his MS thesis to carry out the first field validation of the “Wisconsin” fish bioenergetics model, and with Dr. Frank Rahel (MS 1977, PhD 1982; Magnuson) and Dr. John Lyons (MS 1981, PhD 1984; Magnuson) to participate in the lively debate over the relative roles of stochastic versus deterministic processes in structuring fish communities. Phil received his PhD in Zoology in 1984.
Phil began his professional career as a professor of biology at St. Norbert College in DePere, Wisconsin, in 1984. There he expanded his work on lampreys, often in collaboration with John Lyons, continuing his lifelong studies on feeding by parasitic lampreys but also looking at lamprey spawning and zoogeography and taxonomy. In 1991, during a sabbatical, he journeyed to central Mexico to help carry out the first comprehensive studies of the distribution, status, morphology, and ecology of the threatened non-parasitic Jacona lamprey and the endangered parasitic Chapala lamprey. In addition to his lamprey research, Phil also collaborated with UW-Madison, St. Norbert, and Notre Dame researchers on the “Cascade” food-web project at the University of Notre Dame Ecological Research Center in the Michigan Upper Peninsula. Additionally, he was a co-author of the book Wisconsin Fishes 2000: Status and Distribution in 2000.
In 2000, Phil took a new job as professor at his alma mater, St. Mary’s University, where he remained until his untimely death. There he continued studying lampreys as well as other fishes (papers on 18 non-lamprey taxa over his career) plus his other passion, reptiles and amphibians (56 technical and popular publications). He also published on aquatic and terrestrial invertebrates, teaching methods, and even plants. All of his studies were carried out in partnership with students, and he was recognized as an inspiring teacher. He also was an effective administrator, becoming Chair of the Biology Department in 2004, and acting as Associate Dean of Science and Mathematics in 2011-2012. In his spare time, Phil took advantage of the fact that there was a trout stream on campus and developed into an excellent trout angler. And as he did everywhere he lived, he became an expert on the local flora and fauna.
Phil is survived by his wife, five children, and two young grandchildren. His legacy is also carried on by the hundreds of students he taught over a 30-year career, many of whom have gone on to productive careers in biology and natural resources conservation. He will be greatly missed.