Barnett A. Rattner, US Geological Survey, Patuxent Wildlife Research Center

This article was derived from a presentation by Barnett Rattner at the SETAC North America meeting on 5 November 2018 in Sacramento, California.

As some of you know, ecotoxicologist Thomas W. Custer passed away peacefully on 12 October 2018. Born in Minnesota, he spent his childhood in Southern California, educated at its state universities, and in 1974 he received a doctorate in zoology and ecology from the University of California at Berkeley.

His first professional assignment was at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Patuxent Wildlife Research Center as a member of the Environmental Contaminant Evaluation Program. His initial work was with herons as bioindicator species, and he spent much of his career using fish-eating and insectivorous birds as sentinels of environmental pollution. Tom worked at various field stations and research centers during his 44-year career with the Department of the Interior, actively collecting and analyzing data to his final days.

He was a prolific scientist, authoring or coauthoring more than 135 peer-reviewed publications and reports, as well as having made over 120 presentations at conferences, meetings and workshops.  He was a respected scientific manuscript editor and referee. I had the privilege of working with Tom on several black-crowned night-heron biomonitoring studies, and we co-authored eight papers together. More significant was his long-term professional and subsequently personal relationship with Christine Custer (nee Mitchell). Over the course of his career, Tom received many awards, perhaps most significant was the 2016 SETAC North America Government Service Award that he shared with wife Christine. Tom absolutely loved data analysis, always looking for a new statistical technique or angle to interpret findings.

He was a field biologist par-excellence, and I suspect the thousands of days he spent in the field conducting research studies either sets or approaches a record for any scientist in our field. What I find most remarkable is the magnitude of these studies, with most recent work on tree swallows in Great Lakes Areas of Concern with 37 study sites.

Tom’s career has been inspirational, and he will be missed by many as a scientist, colleague and friend.

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