Sewall Wright Award 2019

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Jonathan B. Losos

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 Jonathan B. Losos, the William H. Danforth Distinguished University Professor, at Washington University, and the Director of the Living Earth Collaborative, a collaboration between Washington University, the Missouri Botanical Garden, and the St. Louis Zoo

Jonathan is known for his integrative approach to the study of evolutionary diversification and for his seminal work with Anolis lizards.  This work spans field and laboratory studies of rapid evolution, and includes studies of behavior, ecology and phylogenetics. One of his best-known and most widely cited articles is his 1998 Science paper that addresses the enduring dichotomy between historical contingency versus predictability in evolutionary biology. In this study Jonathan and collaborators studied Anolis lizards and elegantly demonstrated that they have repeatedly and independently evolved the same ecomorphs on different islands in the Caribbean when they are faced with the same ecological conditions. This and subsequent work on the evolution of other traits including performance, biomechanical, and behavioral traits in these populations have resulted in Anolis lizards literally becoming a textbook example of the repeatability of adaptive radiation in natural populations.

Jonathan has made numerous other fundamental contributions to the study of adaptive radiation and biodiversity, including the evolutionary genetics of biological invasions. However, his influence is not restricted solely to studies published in the primary scientific literature. For example, he is a coauthor of the widely used textbook Biology (Raven et al.) and has also published books and articles targeted towards the more general reader, the latest being the beautiful and highly readable book Improbable Destinies: Fate, Chance, and the Future of Evolution (Penguin Random House, 2017).

Jonathan has served as the President of the American Society of Naturalists in 2010 and as the Editor-in-Chief of the society’s flagship journal The American Naturalist from 2002-06. His career has taken him from his first faculty position at Washington University, to Harvard University as the Curator in Herpetology at the university’s Museum of Comparative Zoology, and in 2018, back again to Washington University as the founding director of the Living Earth Collaborative, a partnership between Washington University, the Saint Louis Zoo, and the Missouri Botanical Garden. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, as well as the recipient of the Daniel Giraud Elliot Medal, the Theodosius Dobzhansky Prize, the Edward O. Wilson Naturalist Award, and the David Starr Jordan Prize.

Troy Day and Monica Geber, on behalf of the Sewall Wright Award Committee

A list of previous recipients can be found here.