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FSU dean wins prestigious E.O. Wilson Naturalist Award

A former inner-city kid who grew up to be an acclaimed field biologist and college dean is being honored by the American Society of Naturalists (ASN).

Joseph Travis, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences ( at Florida State University and a distinguished researcher in the field of ecological genetics, has won the 2011 E.O. Wilson Naturalist Award. Presented at the annual meeting of the ASN in June, the award "is given to an active investigator in mid-career who has made significant contributions to the knowledge of a particular ecosystem or group of organisms," according to the ASN (

E.O. Wilson (, professor emeritus at Harvard University, is one of the most revered biologists on the planet and a gifted communicator of science who twice won the Pulitzer Prize for books in the "general nonfiction" category. The ASN award honors someone who embodies Wilson's ideals and whose research illuminates the natural world.

"The committee that selected Joseph Travis for the E.O. Wilson Naturalist Award chose wisely," said Wilson himself. "Dean Travis ranks very high as a naturalist, biologist and ecologist."

"To be thought of as embodying what Ed Wilson stands for as a naturalist/scientist is as good a tribute as I will ever receive," Travis said. "It's especially meaningful to me because Ed is from the Gulf Coast, loves this area, and has always encouraged me to stay the course as a real naturalist."

Travis, whose methods combine fieldwork, laboratory experiments and statistical analysis, studies how plants and animals adapt to their environment. His early work involved populations of tadpoles and looked at how environmental factors affected larval periods and growth size. His recent work (, involving multiple populations of the same species of fish on the island of Trinidad, has not only shown how environmental factors affect the evolution of the fish but also how the fish in turn produce changes in the environment.

"He has done landmark empirical research on natural systems," the award citation said of Travis. "His greatest strengths are to combine well-informed natural history with superior experimental designs and statistical analyses."

Evolutionary biologist David Reznick agrees. A previous E.O. Wilson award winner, Reznick is collaborating with Travis on the ongoing project in Trinidad. The University of California-Riverside researcher calls Travis a "supreme statistician."

"Joe excels in integrating complex theory with natural history," Reznick said. "I refer to Joe as the oracle in his role in our Trinidad project because he is the only person who is well grounded in every aspect of the work, be it ecosystems ecology, evolutionary biology, high-brow theory, or experimental design and data analysis. He is the glue that holds this far-ranging project together."

A member of the Florida State University faculty for 31 years, Travis has published actively throughout his career. He has written or co-written more than 100 articles in scientific journals, and in 2009, Harvard University Press published "Evolution: The First Four Billion Years," ( a nearly thousand-page book he co-wrote and co-edited with philosopher Michael Ruse, the Lucyle T. Werkmeister Professor at FSU.

In addition, he has served on the editorial boards of the Journal of Evolutionary Biology, Oecologia, the Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics, and The American Naturalist. Travis was editor-in-chief of The American Naturalist from 1998 to 2002 and served as vice president of the ASN in 1994 and as president in 2005.

Travis has served the society and its publication "with great distinction over the years," said Mark McPeek, current editor-in-chief of The American Naturalist. "All other editors-in-chief will be measured against his stellar performance at the helm of the journal."

Besides filling leadership roles in the ASN and on various scientific journals, Travis served in 2010 as president of the American Institute of Biological Sciences, an umbrella organization of various biology groups with a combined membership of more than 250,000 scientists nationwide.

In 1991, Travis was named a Fellow in the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He also holds the title of Robert O. Lawton Distinguished Professor the highest honor bestowed by the FSU faculty on one of its own.

Travis earned a bachelor's degree in biology from the University of Pennsylvania and a doctorate in zoology from Duke University. He held a postdoctoral position in biology at the University of Virginia.


Contact: Joseph Travis
Florida State University

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