2018 American Naturalist Student Paper Award

Posted on

The American Naturalist Student Paper Award is for work that was published in 2017 and that was performed primarily by the first author and primarily while she or he was an undergraduate or graduate student. There were over fifty eligible papers. 

The recipient of the 2018 award is Meredith Cenzer for her paper, "Maladaptive Plasticity Masks the Effects of Natural Selection in the Red-Shouldered Soapberry Bug" (Am Nat 190:521-533). In the 1980s, populations of this insect were locally adapted to feed on the seeds of a native host plant and an introduced host plant; by 2014, local differentiation in beak length had been lost, likely as a consequence of increased gene flow. In this work, Dr. Cenzer leveraged a unique opportunity to quantify maladaptive plasticity and explore its consequences; she designed and executed difficult experiments and capitalized on an unexpected result to draw big and convincing conclusions. We particularly appreciated how her study incorporates measures of selection, population effects (presumably genetic), and common-garden rearing to quantify plasticity. We found her paper to be an elegant combination of ecology, evolution, behavior, and natural history. While it focuses on a single system, maladaptive plasticity is so rarely investigated that we became convinced that hers will come to be considered a landmark study. It is particularly sophisticated work for a single-authored graduate student publication. (Read her summary here: http://amnat.org/an/newpapers/OctCenzer.html)

Honorable Mentions

  • Kimberly Gilbert, for her paper Local adaptation interacts with expansion load during range expansion: maladaptation reduces expansion load (coauthored by Nathaniel Sharp, Amy Angert, Gina Conte, Jeremy Draghl, Frederic Guillaume, Anna Hargreaves, Remi Matthey-Doret, and Michael Whitlock). Dr. Gilbert completed this work as a graduate student of Mike Whitlock’s at UBC and is currently a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Bern, Switzerland. This paper takes a classic American Naturalist-style approach to range limits and expansion, modeling independent effects of two genetic processes and then their interaction. In Dan Bolnick’s words, “this fits in the tried and true “Reese’s’ peanut butter cups” approach to science: take two good ideas and merge them for something new.” The results have broad and timely implications for conservation. We found the paper itself to be beautifully written, not an easy accomplishment given the complex set of issues she explores.(Lay summary here: http://amnat.org/an/newpapers/AprGilbert.html)
  • Thomas Haaland, for his paper Differential allocation revisited: when should mate quality affect parental investment? (coauthored by Jonathan Wright, Bram Kuijpur, and Irja Ratikainen). He did this work as a graduate student of Wright and Ratikainen at the Norwegian Institute of Science and Technology, where he is still based. Starting with an historical narrative, he identifies a clear inconsistency that has persisted in the literature for decades with regard to differential allocation of resources to offspring by females in response to male quality (DA). The paper offers a comprehensive unifying framework, then develops models to parse the contributions of different factors to DA. We were impressed by the way Mr. Haaland attempted to link this work to what is known about DA in nature. We believe that this study will start a new era of studying DA as an ecological and evolutionary process.(Lay summary here: http://amnat.org/an/newpapers/OctHaaland.html)

Judith L. Bronstein, Editor-in-Chief, 2017
Yannis Michalakis, Editor
Alice Winn, Editor

with the 2018 in-coming editors

Daniel Bolnick, in-coming Editor-in-Chief
Russell Bonduriansky, in-coming Editor