Ecological Society of America announces 2018 award recipients

ESA LogoFOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Friday, 16 March 2018
Contact: Liza Lester, 202-833-8773 ext. 211, gro.asenull@retseLL



The Ecological Society of America (ESA) will present the 2018 awards recognizing outstanding contributions to ecology in new discoveries, teaching, sustainability, diversity, and lifelong commitment to the profession during the Society’s Annual Meeting in New Orleans, La. The awards ceremony will take place during the Scientific Plenary on Monday, August 6, at 8 AM in the La Nouvelle Orleans Ballroom, at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center. Learn more about ESA awards on our home website.


Eminent Ecologist Award: F. Stuart Chapin III

The Eminent Ecologist Award honors a senior ecologist for an outstanding body of ecological work or sustained ecological contributions of extraordinary merit.

F. Stuart Chapin III, professor emeritus of ecology at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, transformed our understanding of terrestrial ecosystems over his 50-year career. He has been an intellectual leader in tackling questions about how humans shape ecosystems and how human well-being depends on those ecosystems, driving projects on sustainability for communities in Alaska, and engaging these communities to seek solutions to declining livelihoods caused by climate change. He has also been an international leader in developing solutions to our many environmental challenges.

His early work linked plant physiology to nutrient limitation and allocation in plants, demonstrating how these processes affect nutrient cycling in ecosystems and shape the types of plant defenses deployed against herbivores. He synthesized diverse ideas into a working model for the feedbacks between ecosystem functioning and plant growth and defense strategies, showing how these physiological processes can drive broad ecosystem processes at both local and global scales. Through a lifetime of study in tundra ecosystems, he broke ground in research into the influence of elevated carbon dioxide on boreal ecosystems, demonstrating critical feedbacks between vegetation changes and climate dynamics. His work on the dynamics of plant succession at Glacier Bay, Alaska, is a classic of the ecological literature.

Chapin has served the scientific community as a past president of the Ecological Society of America and on many editorial boards. He directed the Bonanza Creek Long Term Ecological Research site and the Resilience and Adaptation Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT) program, and served on advisory boards for numerous government and scientific organizations, particularly on issues of climate policy. He has been praised as strong mentor and advisor to students, friends, and colleagues throughout his career—generous with his time, ideas, and encouragement in support of great science.


MacArthur Award: Katharine N. Suding

The Robert H. MacArthur Award honors an established ecologist in mid-career for meritorious contributions to ecology, in the expectation of continued outstanding ecological research. Award winners generally are within 25 years from the completion of their PhD.

Katharine Suding, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Colorado’s Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research, is a leader in community ecology. She applies empirical and theoretical approaches to address fundamental and applied problems faced by ecological communities in today’s changing world. She has impacted the field of ecology not only through her numerous publications, but also through the students and postdocs she has mentored, and through her leadership in interdisciplinary collaborations.

Suding’s work in grassland ecosystems demonstrated how species’ traits affect the persistence and abundance of species in response to environmental stressors, many of which are related to human activities such as nitrogen deposition, grazing, and changes in rainfall. Her work in alpine systems has revealed the mechanisms by which alpine communities respond to climate change, particularly the role of plant-soil feedbacks. Her research focuses on community assembly and response to environmental perturbations, and the implications for restoration and management. She has taken many leadership roles in interdisciplinary collaborations to investigate patterns and processes within and among ecosystems. She addresses both fundamental and applied problems in ecology, using empirical and theoretical approaches to understand how communities work.

Suding received her PhD from the University of Michigan in 1999. She has since mentored many graduate students and postdocs who now have successful careers in academic institutions, and in agencies and NGOs doing practical work in restoration and landscape management. She has contributed to over 120 articles and co-edited two books, and has been an active leader in the National Science Foundation’s-Long Term Ecological Research network. She has spread the curiosity that feeds her own research to students and collaborators, emphasizing the need to combine basic and applied research in our changing world.


Distinguished Service Citation: Scott L. Collins

The Distinguished Service Citation recognizes long and distinguished volunteer service to ESA, the scientific community, and the larger purpose of ecology in the public welfare.

Scott Collins, distinguished professor of biology at the University of New Mexico, has brought extraordinary vision and leadership to advancing the science of ecology, to developing and communicating the need for long-term and broad-scale research infrastructure that enables advancement of ecological knowledge, to the education of young ecologists, and to the Ecological Society of America. He has long recognized the importance of scientists’ active participation in their professional communities, which is well illustrated by decades of service to the ESA and the broader scientific community.

Collins has served in nearly all possible roles within the Society, including vice president of Public Affairs and ESA president in 2013. He served on the editorial boards of two of the Society’s journals, Ecosphere and Ecology, and has chaired or has been a member of eight committees and sections. During his tenure as chair of the Publications Committee, he led two intensive editor-in-chief reviews. He cares deeply about training the next generation of ecologists and has been very active in ESA’s Strategies for Ecology Education, Diversity and Sustainability (SEEDS) program for undergraduates.

Scott has served the broader ecological community for more than 25 years as a faculty member, educator and mentor, and leader within the scientific community. He teaches both undergrad and graduate student classes at the University of New Mexico and actively promotes research activities for students through his leadership role in a National Science Foundation-funded Research Experience for Undergraduates program and in SEEDS. While a program officer at the National Science Foundation, he was instrumental in developing and supporting many large-scale ecological initiatives, including the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS), the Long Term Ecological Research program, the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON), and the Integrated Research Challenges.

As a researcher, Collins helped transform the field of community ecology by identifying the mechanisms that control species diversity in grasslands. The framework he developed to explain the effects of disturbance on plant communities is a significant contribution to ecological theory.

Collins has dedicated significant amounts of time to engaging with national policy makers and federal agency personnel. In his briefings to Congress, he has emphasized the importance of long-term and broad-scale ecological research, long-term data sets, and research infrastructure needs for the biological and environmental sciences.


Eugene P. Odum Award for Excellence in Ecology Education: Diane Ebert-May

Odum Award recipients demonstrate their ability to relate basic ecological principles to human affairs through teaching, outreach, and mentoring activities. 

Diane Ebert-May is a true pioneer in ecology education. For decades, she has encouraged ecologists to develop their teaching based on the principles developed through pedagogical research that reveal the best practices to facilitate student learning of complex ideas in science. Her development program, Faculty Institutes for Reforming Science Teaching (FIRST), introduces young faculty and postdoctoral fellows to evidence-based teaching practices early in their careers, while collecting data on the effectiveness of these practices as they are implemented. This innovative faculty development program has received multiple rounds of funding from the National Science Foundation and trained hundreds of today’s ecology faculty. Many of the techniques promoted by FIRST are now routine in ecological classrooms.

Ebert-May’s substantial body of published work on teaching and assessment methods helped legitimize educational research as a valid pursuit in the discipline of ecology. She has inspired ecological educators through her publications on science pedagogy, her leadership of the Education Section of the ESA, and her energetic and passionate presentations. Ebert-May practices what she preaches, teaching with engaging, inquiry-based, active-learning techniques that inspire students to think, ask questions of the material, form hypotheses, make connections, and become scientists.


Commitment to Human Diversity in Ecology Award: Zakiya Holmes Leggett

ESA’s Commitment to Human Diversity in Ecology award recognizes long-standing contributions of an individual towards increasing the diversity of future ecologists through mentoring, teaching, or outreach.

Zakiya Holmes Leggett, assistant professor of forestry and environment at North Carolina State University, has been proactive throughout her career in mentoring and recruiting students from diverse ethnic backgrounds into the field of ecology. As a vanguard for African American women in soil and forest ecology and sustainability studies, she is a notable mentor for student populations that are significantly underrepresented in the field.

Leggett participated in one of the first cohorts of ESA’s SEEDS program as a student at Tuskegee University. She has remained actively involved with SEEDS as a mentor and member of the Advisory Board, helping to grow this diversity program at ESA in the last 16 years, and is active on the Advisory Board of the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences at Tuskegee.

She serves as NCSU’s campus director for the Doris Duke Conservation Scholars (DDCS) Program,  which trains undergraduate students that are interested in research experiences in conservation issues as well as encouraging human diversity in those fields. She has been equally as involved in helping career development programs for minority students in the Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Sciences (MANRRS) professional society. In a short time, her ability to recruit minority students into the workforce, in non-academic research positions and for academic graduate programs, has made an impact in enhancing human diversity of ecologists throughout the United States.

During her decade as a sustainability scientist at the Weyerhaeuser Company, she involved students from diverse ethnic backgrounds in her work designing and executing multidisciplinary research studies to address environmental sustainability for a global forest products company. She continues this mentoring work as an invited speaker at schools, national conferences, and universities, sharing her passion for environmental education and stewardship.


Robert H. Whittaker Distinguished Ecologist Award: David B. Lindenmayer

The Whittaker Award recognizes an ecologist with an earned doctorate and an outstanding record of contributions in ecology who is not a U.S. citizen and who resides outside the United States.

David Lindenmayer, Australian Research Council Laureate Professor at the Australian National University in Canberra, is a world leader in landscape-scale conservation ecology, contributing significantly to the understanding of biodiversity both within Australia and around the world. He specializes in establishing large-scale, long-term research programs that are underpinned by rigorous experimental design, detailed sampling, and innovative statistical analyses. He is a prodigious author of more than 650 scientific, peer-reviewed publications, 111 book chapters, and 44 scholarly books, including 5 well-known textbooks. His work has been influential in developing ways to conserve biodiversity across a range of wild and urban landscapes, including reserves, national parks, wood production forests, and farmland.


W.S. Cooper Award: Jonas J. Lembrechts, Aníbal Pauchard, Jonathan Lenoir, Martin A. Nuñez, Charly Géron, Arne Ven, Pablo Bravo-Monasterio, Ernesto Teneb, Ivan  Nijs, and Ann Milbau.

The Cooper Award honors the authors of an outstanding publication in the field of geobotany, physiographic ecology, plant succession or the distribution of plants along environmental gradients. William S. Cooper was a pioneer of physiographic ecology and geobotany, with a particular interest in the influence of historical factors, such as glaciations and climate history, on the pattern of contemporary plant communities across landforms.

Cold places are notable for their comparative lack of non-native plants. But figuring out why this is the case is difficult given that high-elevation and high-latitude habitats tend to be not only cold, but also relatively undisturbed, remote, and nutrient-poor. In an ambitious set of experiments, Jonas Lembrechts and colleagues experimentally manipulated disturbance, nutrients, and seed input along elevational gradients in southern South America and northern Scandinavia. They found that disturbance had the strongest effect at all sites, allowing non-native species to establish well above their current elevational limits. The results have clear implications for the future of cold-climate ecosystems affected by warming and increased rates of disturbance.


George Mercer Award: Rachel M. Germain, Sharon Y. Strauss and Benjamin Gilbert

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

Rachel Germain, a post-doctoral fellow at the University of British Columbia, and colleagues evaluated how dispersal limitation and environmental filtering influence local-scale diversity across a range of spatial scales. Using a clever experimental approach adopted from restoration ecology, they vacuumed seeds off field plots and used the collected seeds to create homogenous propagule pools across a range of scales. They found a striking effect of dispersal limitation: local communities harbored roughly half as many species as they could in the absence of dispersal limitation. Their findings advance the understanding of a fundamental ecological problem and give insight into how to better manage biodiversity in a global biodiversity hotspot.


Sustainability Science Award: Seema Jayachandran, Joost de Laat, Eric F. Lambin, Charlotte Y. Stanton, Robin Audy, Nancy E. Thomas

The Sustainability Science Award recognizes the authors of the scholarly work that makes the greatest contribution to the emerging science of ecosystem and regional sustainability through the integration of ecological and social sciences.

Many international programs seek to motivate landowners to change their behavior and take up practices that would reduce land degradation and offset carbon emissions. The award-winning study by Seema Jayachandran and colleagues is notable for its methodology, which avoided several of the pitfalls that have limited the reliability of prior efforts to assess the value of payments for ecosystem services (PES) to motivate landowners.

The authors applied the ‘gold standard’ of experimental research to sustainability science by randomly assigning 121 Ugandan villages to groups that did or did not receive PES to motivate changing forestry practice. They monitored results using high-quality remote sensing data, and demonstrated that PES groups reduced deforestation to half that of the control group. The research demonstrates the value of interdisciplinary collaboration in evaluating questions in sustainability science. It relies on the expertise of economists, remote sensing specialists, and a local NGO, which led the project. The government of Uganda and international organizations also played important roles in identifying participating villages and assuring compliance. The study represents a major step forward in the evaluation of PES for global conservation interventions.

  • Jayachandran, S., J. de Laat, E. Lambin, C. Stanton, R. Audy and N. Thomas. Cash for Carbon: A randomized trial of payments for ecosystem services to reduce deforestation. Science 357: 267-273.


Innovation in Sustainability Science Award: Laura E. Dee, Michel De Lara, Christopher Costello, Steven D. Gaines

The Innovation in Sustainability Science Award recognizes the authors of a peer-reviewed paper published in the past five years exemplifying leading-edge work on solution pathways to sustainability challenges.

Many conservation organizations have shifted their stated objectives from preserving biodiversity to protecting nature for the benefits it provides to society—known as ecosystem services. Laura Dee and colleagues addressed the question, if conservation decisions were based solely on optimizing ecosystem services, how much protection of biodiversity could arise? Although biodiversity contributes to ecosystem services, the details of which species are critical, and whether they will be lost in the future, are fraught with uncertainty. Explicitly considering this uncertainty, they integrated ecology and economics to develop a new theoretical framework that addresses this question. They found that protecting more species than are presumed critical is optimal due to uncertainty, and define conditions when the optimal protection strategy is to protect all species, no species, and cases in between. Their analysis provides criteria to evaluate when managing for particular ecosystem services could warrant protecting all species, given uncertainty. Evaluating this criterion with empirical estimates from different ecosystems suggests that optimizing some services will be more likely to protect most species than others. Therefore, these results also define when managing for ecosystem services alone could leave significant biodiversity unprotected, and other strategies will be needed to also preserve biodiversity.


Learn more about the August 7–12, 2017 ESA Annual Meeting on the meeting website:


ESA welcomes attendance from members of the press and waives registration fees for reporters and public information officers. To apply, please contact ESA Communications Officer Liza Lester directly at gro.asenull@retsell.


The Ecological Society of America (ESA), founded in 1915, is the world’s largest community of professional ecologists and a trusted source of ecological knowledge, committed to advancing the understanding of life on Earth. The 9,000 member Society publishes five journals and a membership bulletin and broadly shares ecological information through policy, media outreach, and education initiatives. The Society’s Annual Meeting attracts 4,000 attendees and features the most recent advances in ecological science. Visit the ESA website at