Jennifer Williams and colleagues receive the Mercer Award for outstanding papers by young researchers

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

Jennifer Williams stands in front of a drought shelter for an experiment manipulating rainfall in the Garry Oak ecosystem to explore the effects of changing climate on the plant community at Cowichan Preserve (near Duncan, British Columbia, Canada) in December 2015. Credit, Jennifer Williams.

ESA recognizes Jennifer Williams, Bruce Kendall, and Jonathan Levine with the 2017 Mercer award for their paper “Rapid evolution accelerates plant population spread in fragmented experimental landscapes,” published in Science.

Biological invasions, and migrations of native species in response to climate change, are pressing areas of interest in this time of global change. Fragmentation of the landscape by natural and human-made barriers slows the velocity of spread, but it is not known how patchy habitat quality might influence the potential for evolution to accelerate invasions.

Jennifer Williams, an assistant professor at the University of British Columbia, and colleagues implemented a creative experimental design using the model plant species Arabidopsis thaliana that allowed them to disentangle ecological and evolutionary dynamics during population expansion. Some plant populations were allowed to evolve, while others were continually reset to their original genetic composition. The authors convincingly demonstrate that rapid evolution can influence the speed at which populations spread, especially in fragmented landscapes.

  • Williams, J.L., B.E. Kendall, and J.M. Levine (2016) Rapid evolution accelerates plant population spread in fragmented experimental landscapesScience 353(6298), pp. 482-485. DOI: 10.1126/science.aaf6268
  • Watch this space for announcements of more 2017 ESA awards — or find all 2017 award winners in the 1 March 2017 press release

Bruce Kendall in Dominica in December, 2016. Credit, Michelle Kendall.

Jonathan Levine at ETH Zürich in November 2011. Credit, Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich.