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.

2022 ASN Distinguished Naturalist Award

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Tadashi Fukami

The Distinguished Naturalist Award of the American Society of Naturalists is given annually to an active midcareer scientist who has made significant contributions to the knowledge of a particular ecosystem or group of organisms and who, through this work, has illuminated key principles of evolutionary biology and an enhanced appreciation of natural history. The winner of the ASN Distinguished Naturalist Award in 2022 is Tadashi Fukami, Professor at Stanford University.

Dr. Fukami has developed frontier, ground-breaking research focusing on the ecological and evolutionary dynamics of community assembly, particularly the role of historical contingency.

Fukami’s graduate work developed and tested theoretical predictions, successfully combining models and experimental microcosms. His postdoctoral work advanced new concepts by comparing rat-invaded to uninvaded islands in New Zealand. This work led to insights into plant-soil interactions, fungal communities, and carbon sequestration. He has made major contributions to the field of invasion biology through his application of the lens of priority effects and niche theory.

Fukami’s work seeks to uncover generalizations across the tree of life, with studies of communities of both macro- and micro-organisms, including plants, birds, freshwater protists, and wood-decay fungi. Over the past decade, he has delved deeply into the natural history of microbial communities that colonize the nectar of flowers of the sticky monkey-flower. His system harnesses the power of microcosms for replicated, experimental tests of theory while being grounded in the rich natural history of a community assembly process that is as ubiquitous and common as a flower opening.

Using meticulous, detailed studies motivated by theory, Fukami’s work on nectar microbial communities has shown that priority effects interact with dispersal limitation to shape regional diversity patterns, that priority effects are predictable and phylogenetically structured, that coexistence theory can be used to explain observed variation in community composition, and that this variation has consequences for nectar chemistry, pollinator visitation, and plant reproductive success. Fukami has become a leader in the field by linking microorganism ecology with macro-organism ecology and evolution.

Fukami also uses novel genetic approaches to uncover how functional traits modulate priority effects. For example, he used whole-genome resequencing in one species of nectar-colonizing yeast to demonstrate that a high rate of gene duplication underlies its aggressive nitrogen scavenging, explaining niche pre-emption. At the same time, he continues to develop novel theory; his “eco-evolutionary buffering hypothesis” proposes that evolution of resistance to interspecific priority effects, together with fitness tradeoffs, may help to maintain diversity at the regional level. Finally, he has contributed important, evidence-based insights into the teaching of ecology and evolution.

Tadashi Fukami is a worthy recipient of the Distinguished Naturalist Award, through which we recognize his remarkable capacity to combine novel theory, creative experimental research on a wide range of organisms, a rich body of work in one system grounded in natural history, and a commitment to improving the way we teach and train students.

—The Distinguished Naturalist Award Committee: Ingrid Parker (chair), Daniel Simberloff, and Toby Kiers