Jennifer Gremer and Larry Venable’s bet-hedging wins them the #ESA2016 Mercer Award

Jennifer Gremer measures winter annual plants in an experimental plot in the Sonoran Desert. <i>Photo credit, Paul Mirocha<i>.

Jennifer Gremer measures winter annual plants in an experimental plot in the Sonoran Desert. Photo credit, Paul Mirocha.

The George Mercer Award recognizes an outstanding and recently-published ecological research paper by young scientists.

Jennifer R. Gremer and D. Lawrence Venable (2014) Bet hedging in desert winter annual plants: optimal germination strategies in a variable environment. Ecology Letters 17: 380–387. DOI: 10.1111/ele.12241

Unpredictable fluctuation in environmental conditions is a ubiquitous challenge for all forms of life. “Bet-hedging” names a strategy for dealing with environmental variation by adopting physical characteristics that are not best suited to average conditions, but allow survival in a wide variety of conditions, sacrificing short-term success to minimize risk over time. In a synthesis of 30 years of data, with multiple modeling approaches, Jennifer Gremer and D. Lawrence Venable, both at the University of Arizona at the time of the study (Dr. Gremer has since moved to the University of California, Davis), present definitive evidence that delayed seed germination acts as a bet-hedging strategy in winter annual plants of the Sonoran Desert.

Their elegant paper provides a test of an age-old problem, in an iconic system. As predicted, species that face more risk exhibit stronger bet-hedging. This paper is a model of how to test general, qualitative theoretical predictions by making them quantitative. It provides a convincing example in a classic system, while at the same time inspiring new questions concerning the evolution of life history strategies.

Larry Venable in the field. Credit, Alberto Burquez

Larry Venable in the field. Credit, Alberto Burquez.

ESA will present the 2016 awards during the 2016 Annual Meeting in Fort Lauderdale, Fl. The awards ceremony will take place on Monday, August 8, at 8 AM in the Floridian Ballroom AB, Greater Fort Lauderdale/Broward County Convention Center.

Read about all of the 2016 award winners in the awards master post.