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.

Sewall Wright Award 2020

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Sharon Strauss

The Sewall Wright Award, established in 1991, is given annually and honors a senior but still active investigator who is making fundamental contributions to the Society's goals, namely, promoting the conceptual unification of the biological sciences.

The 2019 Sewall Wright Award honors Sharon Y Strauss, Professor in the Department of Evolution and Ecology at the University of California, Davis. Sharon has had a career-spanning association with the American Society of Naturalists, from being a Jasper Loftus-Hills Young Investigator in 1990 to President of the Society in 2018.  Sharon is a fellow of the California Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the Ecological Society of America.

Sharon is known for the breadth of her research and writings in ecology and evolutionary biology, with a focus on plants. Beginning with early work on plant interactions with herbivores, her work expanded to include interactions with mutualists (pollinators, microbes) and antagonists (herbivores, parasites). She argued early on that multi-species interactions, and indirect interactions, in particular, are important in shaping the dynamics, distribution and evolution of plant populations.

Sharon was an early proponent of integrating ecological and evolutionary research, before “eco-evolutionary dynamics” was a buzzword. She showed how species interactions shape patterns of natural selection on plants, e.g., how invasive species affect the ecological and evolutionary responses of natives. Her work also illustrates how trait evolution can shape the outcome of species interactions, and how eco-evolutionary feedbacks maintain both genetic and species diversity in plant communities. In the past decade, the evolutionary lens of her work has expanded to consider phylogenetic and macro-evolutionary influences on species interactions, coexistence, and geographic distributions.

Sharon’s work embodies the Society’s mission of introducing new subjects and advancing conceptual unification across disciplines. She has published ground-breaking empirical studies and authored or co-authored an impressive number of “ideas” papers in leading journals such as Trends in Ecology and Evolution and Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution and Systematics. Sharon has also been an important mentor to a large cadre of graduate students and postdocs whose work is now shaping advances in basic and applied ecology and evolutionary biology.

Committee: Monica Geber, Ellen Ketterson, Mary Power, Michael Antolin