Obituary - Professor Alain Blieck (1949-2022)

Our esteemed colleague and friend, Alain Robert Maurice Blieck-Cazeau of Haubourdin, former CNRS senior scientist, and professor emeritus of the Université des Sciences et Technologies de Lille, Campus de Villeneuve d’Ascq, succumbed to COVID-19 in early February.

Alain, a true northern Frenchman with Dutch/Belgian/Walloon connections, conducted research on a wide range of topics including evolutionary biology, palaeobiology and systematics (taxonomy, nomenclature, phylogeny), palaeoecology, biostratigraphy, and palaeobiogeography. His main focus was the earliest vertebrates and, in particular, the Palaeozoic jawless Pteraspidomorphs that are known from the Ordovician to the Devonian, but he also contributed on Palaeozoic microvertebrates, and sharks to tetrapods. He was in the vanguard of cladistics applied to early vertebrates.

Alain made major contributions to the biodiversity, biostratigraphy and palaeobiogeography of Devonian pteraspidomorphs. These included heterostracans from western Europe and organising important conferences on western European palaeogeography. Alain’s body of work spans nearly 50 years. His last as his first is on heterostracans pteraspidomorphs and is in press. He brought new rigor to understanding of early vertebrates, especially their first appearance in the early/mid-Ordovician and the Early Devonian faunas from the Old Red Sandstone Continent (Spitsbergen, Arctic Russia and Canada, Europe, USA). He was one of the first to press that the vertebrates are a group fundamental to the biostratigraphy of the Middle Palaeozoic.

Alain was both a field man in the classic style, with expeditions as far afield as Spitsbergen and Iran, an active member of geological societies in France and further afield; a teacher who fostered many students, taking field courses on the NE French coast and elsewhere. He was most generous to many visiting researchers and students.

‘Papa’ Blieck (as he became known after this label was placed on his group table in a French restaurant during our final IGCP conference in 1995) worked on several international projects, especially on mid-Palaeozoic geological problems related to vertebrates and notably UNESCO:IUGS IGCP 328, when we were co-leaders from 1993 to 1996, which was voted one of the best projects by the Earth Sciences Division and Board of IGCP. During the latter, he hosted a major field excursion across northern France and Belgium, fittingly finishing in a Champagne cave near Reims. We edited together several conference proceedings, such as the Gross Symposium series and the Final report for IGCP 328. I was honoured to referee his final contribution (Blieck In press).

Alain’s generosity, intellect, his sense of fun will be missed by colleagues and friends. Alain Blieck was supported throughout his career by his partner Dr Edmonde Razafimahaleo and their two sons and family.

By Susan Turner Blieck, A. In press. Interpreting ecological niches of heterostracans (Vertebrata: Pteraspidomorphi). Geologica Belgica.