2016 Presidential Award Winner

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Salamander catcher

The recipient of the 2016 Presidential Award for the best paper published in The American Naturalist during the preceding calendar year is: Mark C. Urban and Jonathan L. Richardson. 2015. "The evolution of foraging rate across local and geographic gradients in predation risk and competition." American Naturalist 186:E16-E32.

We know intuitively that the nature and form of natural selection changes with ecological context, but how it changes is rarely studied explicitly. This paper by Urban and Richardson presents an elegant series of studies of how foraging rates have evolved in multiple populations of the spotted salamander (Ambystoma maculatum) that coexist with different types of predators.

This paper exemplifies the best of what scientists have come to expect in an AmNat paper. The paper crosses disciplinary boundaries by explicitly exploring how the ecological context of a population shapes the evolutionary pressures it experiences. The authors expound a clear set of theoretically justified and empirically testable predictions and describe the natural history of the system to set the biological stage for those predictions. They then present results from a series of observational studies to provide context. Finally, they present the results of a carefully designed experiment to rigorously test their predictions.

Most importantly, this paper tells a complete story about how different types of predators shape the selection pressures on foraging in this species, and provides insights that will be directly relevant to many other studies of natural selection in the wild.

Choosing one paper to single out from among the many excellent papers published each year is a daunting task. The American Naturalist publishes many of the best papers in ecology, evolution, and behavior each year. I congratulate all the authors in volumes 185 and 186 for their excellent work, and I’m sorry I can choose only one.

Mark A. McPeek
President, American Society of Naturalists