American Society of Naturalists

A membership society whose goal is to advance and to diffuse knowledge of organic evolution and other broad biological principles so as to enhance the conceptual unification of the biological sciences.

2020 American Naturalist Student Paper Award

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The American Naturalist 2020 Student Paper Award is for work that was published in 2019 and that was performed primarily by the first author and primarily while she or he was an undergraduate or graduate student. There were seventy eligible papers. The Editors of the journal, in consultation with Associate Editors, examine all student-authored papers in the journal to select an outstanding contribution that advances the journal’s goals of changing the way people think about organismal biology (including but not limited to ecology, evolution, and behavior) by providing new conceptual insights.
The recipient of the 2020 Student Paper Award is Chuliang Song, for his paper “On the consequences of the interdependence of stabilizing and equalizing mechanisms” (American Naturalist, November 2019, 194 (5):627-639), co-authored with György Barabás and Serguei Saavedra. Over the past decades, ecology has seen the emergence of what is now called Modern Coexistence Theory that provides an elegant interpretation and synthesis of mechanisms that can facilitate long-term coexistence of species. Song and colleagues present an exceptionally clearly written evaluation of MCT, comparing two- versus multi-species models, and comparing phenomenological versus more mechanistic models.  With wonderfully lucid writing, they help clarify a number of key ideas of MCT, the relationships between various permutations of the theory, and some inconsistencies that people studying MCT need to keep in mind.  Their critical appraisal of a major idea in ecology will affect the way ecologists think about species coexistence. They also do an excellent job of introducing the topic to readers who are not theoretical ecologists, making MCT accessible to a wider array of readers.

Honorable Mention

Silas B. Tittes, for his paper “Grow where you thrive, or where only you can survive? An analysis of performance curve evaluation in a clade with diverse habitat affinities”, with co-authors Joseph F. Walker, Lorena Torres-Martíez and Nancy C. Emery (American Naturalist 193 (4):530-544). In this paper, Tittes and colleagues develop a novel Bayesian analytical tool for quantifying performance curves (e.g., how fitness varies across a gradient of environmental conditions). Their new method has the key benefit that it facilitates comparisons between different performance curve estimates (e.g., from different species). They then use this method to analyze growth chamber experimental data for a clade of vernal pool plants, that partition different soil moisture conditions in nature. Despite the differences in species’ distribution in the wild, in the laboratory these plants all have similar performance curves, with optimal performance often occurring at water conditions where a given species is rare or absent. The insight is that abiotic performance alone is not a good guide (contrary to many environmental niche modeling approaches), but rather biotic interactions such as competition must play a key role. This paper is outstanding for its merger of an innovative and sophisticated statistical toolkit with laboratory experimental data, field data on species distributions, all placed within a phylogenetic context, to address a core question in evolutionary ecology: what factors dictate species’ distributions?

Daniel I. Bolnick, Editor-in-Chief
Russell Bonduriansky, Editor
Jennifer Lau, Editor
Alice Winn, Editor

with the editors who handled some of the 2019 papers,

Judith Bronstein, former Editor-in-Chief
Yannis Michilakis, former Editor