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University of Tennessee professor wins world's top prize for ecology, environmental science

KNOXVILLEA University of Tennessee, Knoxville, professor who is one of the world's leading experts on invasive species has received the world's pre-eminent prize for ecology and environmental science.

Daniel Simberloff, the Gore-Hunger Professor of Environmental Studies in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, has won the 2012 Ramon Margalef Award for Ecology. The award is presented annually by the Government of Catalonia, an autonomous region in northeast Spain, "to recognize an exceptional scientific career or discovery in the field of ecological science."

Simberloff, who in May became UT's third faculty member in history to be elected to the National Academy of Sciences, is being honored for "his contributions to the observation and theoretical analysis of the structure and dynamics of ecological communities, and for the application of these studies to conservation biology."

Ecologists worldwide are considered for the prize named for Margalef, one of Spain's most distinguished scientists and a founding father of modern ecology. The prize includes a cash award of about $100,000 and a sculpture memorializing Margalef.

"That a committee of leading ecologists should choose me for this honor is highly gratifying. The previous prizewinners are all stars of ecology whose work I've long admired," said Simberloff, who returned to UT this week after a year-long development leave in France where he lectured, helped conduct a workshop and wrote a book and several manuscripts.

"My scientific accomplishments all result from having always been surrounded by excellent graduate students, post-doctoral fellows and interactive colleagues," Simberloff said. "I've learned far more from them than they have from me over the years, and I cannot emphasize enough how important and exciting it is to be surrounded by good scientists doing interesting research and willing to give instant feedback on one's own ideas."

Chancellor Jimmy G. Cheek said he's elated that Simberloff has received the Margalef Award.

"To earn this award, on top of his recent election to the National Academy of Sciences, underscores the groundbreaking work Dr. Simberloff does to help us understand our world and preserve our environment," Cheek said. "Our students and our campus community are fortunate to have faculty of Dr. Simberloff's caliber. Their teaching and research raise the profile of UT and its impact on the world and fuel our journey to becoming a Top 25 public research university."

Theresa Lee, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, said Simberloff is a key contributor in an outstanding department and has been instrumental in attracting superb junior faculty.

"His research has established him as a world leader in the study of invasive species. This honor is richly deserved," she said.

Gary McCracken, head of the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, said Simberloff has distinguished himself, not only as a scientist, but also as an exemplary teacher and colleague.

"He has been a wonderful mentor for graduate students, post-docs, and junior faculty. He has been a major force in building the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology into the great department that it is, having served on and chaired on a large number of faculty search committees and with long service on graduate admissions," McCracken said. "Some may think of great scientists as unapproachable or in their 'bubble.' That is decidedly not Dan. He is always available with wise and humorous counsel, and for the last 15 years he has been a fabulous citizen at UT and within our department."

Although the Margalef Award was officially announced today, Simberloff learned of the honor three weeks ago while in France. Since he was planning to travel to Barcelona the next day to deliver his daughter to a summer study abroad program, the Margalef committee arranged to meet him at the government palace where he was congratulated by Catalan President Artus Mas.

Simberloff will return to Barcelona in October to receive the award at a ceremony at the Catalan government palace.

Simberloff, who earned his bachelor's and doctoral degrees at Harvard University, came to UT in 1997 from Florida State University to accept the Gore-Hunger Chair founded by former Vice President Al Gore Jr. in honor of his late sister, Nancy Gore Hunger. Simberloff founded and directs the Institute for Biological Invasions, and he is the editor of the new Encyclopedia of Biological Invasions, an 800-page tome that documents invasions worldwide.

Simberloff's work, frequently cited in textbooks, is studied by most undergraduate ecology students.

As a researcher, he is noted for rigorously testing and sometimes discarding his own theories, thereby strengthening the scientific basis for ecology. His early research on insects on small islands in Florida had assessed the theory of island biogeography, which proposed that the number of species found on an undisturbed island was determined by a balance between ongoing immigration and extinction. This research, conducted with Harvard's E.O. Wilson, won the prestigious Mercer Award in 1971. However, in 1976 Simberloff published further research on this system that contradicted this widely accepted theory, showing that most species that disappeared from the island had never really established ongoing populations beyond the first few individuals that arrived there, and that longstanding populations rarely became extinct.

Simberloff was elected as a fellow in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1993.

Past winners of the Margalef Award are Paul Dayton, a marine benthic biologist at Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, Calif.; Sir John Lawton, a British scientist who was knighted for his contributions to ecological sciences; Harold Mooney, biology professor at Stanford University whose work prompted universities worldwide to create departments dedicated to ecological research; Daniel Pauly, director of the Fisheries Centre at the University of British Columbia and the world's leading authority on human impacts on global fisheries; Paul Ehrlich, a biology professor at Stanford University who is an expert on human overpopulation and its environmental impacts; Simon Levin, a biology professor at Princeton University who specializes in the use of mathematical modeling and empirical studies to understand ecosystems and biological diversity; and Juan Carlos Castilla of Chile, a pioneer of South American marine ecology.


Contact: Amy Blakely
University of Tennessee at Knoxville

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