Prof. Evan Economo, who leads OIST’s Biodiversity and Biocomplexity Unit, was awarded the 2013 Presidential Award from the American Society of Naturalists (ASN). This award is given to authors of the best paper published in the journal The American Naturalist in the previous year. The American Naturalist is one of the most prestigious academic journals in the field of ecology, evolution, and behavior. The President of the Society selected this paper out of hundreds of other outstanding articles in the field.
“I am honored not just because I won an award, but because the paper was personally chosen by the ASN President, Dolph Schluter, who is a giant in our field,” says Economo.
Economo’s paper revisits a famous but untested theory, the Taxon Cycle, first proposed by eminent biologist Edward O. Wilson 50 years ago. The theory states that species disperse and expand their range, shift in ecological strategy, and evolve after colonizing new areas in a cyclical and repeatable pattern. Using modern methods to analyze the phenotypic and phylogenetic structure of 183 Fijian ant species, Economo and his study group found strong evidence for a historical taxon cycle, as well as evidence of human influences altering the cycle. They propose global commerce and widespread habitat modification have initiated a new global taxon cycle, with ant species moved by humans acting as the new colonizers.
Economo and his collaborators have received a grant from the National Science Foundation and are currently working to tackle their hypothesis from more angles.