Kimberly Sheldon’s research on climate change effects on dung beetles was featured on CBS Saturday Morning, as part of a segment on insect declines in the Anthropocene.
Daniel Simberloff, the Gore Hunger Professor of Environmental Science in the UT Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, received an honorary membership – the Society’s highest honor – for his “exceptional contribution at the international level to the generation, communication, and promotion of ecological knowledge and solutions.”
“I have been an avid reader of BES journals since my earliest graduate school days,” Simberloff said. “My extensive research on Charles Elton led me to a greater appreciation of the leading role BES plays in shaping the direction of ecological research. I am humbled and deeply grateful that the Society would confer such an honor on me.”
Simberloff’s research focus is invasion biology, community composition, and the structure of organisms in specific features. One long-term project in Patagonia he has worked on involves invasive conifer trees and the introduction of deer, boar, and fungi. Almost a century ago, non-native tree species were introduced to a cleared section in the middle of a native forest in an attempt to establish a forestry industry on Isla Victoria, an island in the middle of Lake Nahuel Huapi. Only seven of the original species spread in number beyond the plantations.
“Our research shows that absence of suitable mycorrhizal fungi in the native forest keeps many of the non-native species from spreading,” Simberloff said. “Boar introduced in 1999, however, are exacerbating the invasion by rooting for fungal mycelium. Also, two species of deer introduced long ago may be aiding the spread.”
Simberloff became fascinated with nature during his childhood in rural Pennsylvania, but it was his time at Harvard College that got him hooked on ecology.
“I was seduced by the aesthetics and challenge of mathematics, but a non-majors biology course and an entomology course steered me back into biology and to the laboratory of Edward O. Wilson, who advised my doctorate: a test of the equilibrium theory of island biogeography with the arthropod communities of small mangrove islands,” Simberloff said. “This research and interactions with Wilson and Robert MacArthur, who served as a member of my doctoral committee, led me to a lifelong interest in the community level of organization – which species are found together, which are not found together, and why.”
Simberloff, along with Robin Chazdon, University of the Sunshine Coast, in Australia and Monica Turner, University of Wisconsin-Madison, joined the BES Honorary Membership roster, which includes British Ecologist Sir David Attenborough.
This year, there are winners across five continents, representing the international membership of the BES. Learn more about the 2023 BES award winners.
Three of EEB’s own faculty members, Nina Fefferman, Orou Gaoue, and Xingli Giam, were honored with awards at the recent College of Arts and Sciences Faculty Awards Night.
Nina Fefferman was recognized with the Academic Outreach Award for Service – she was not able to attend the ceremony, as she was doing more of the pandemic preparedness / response work for which she was honored.
Orou Gaoue was recognized with the Academic Outreach Award for Research and Creative Activity.
Xingli Giam was recognized with the Early Career Excellence in Research and Creative Achievement award.
Congratulations to these faculty members!
In the years since social media became part of our daily lives, an increased number of individuals are self-organizing online around identity, social topics, and various other interests. This transition leads to a new type of cultural authority and one that researchers are investigating to understand how the online human world interacts with the offline human world at both the individual and collective level.
Sergey Gavrilets, Distinguished Professor in the UT Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, received a grant from the John Templeton Foundation to research the emergence of these new digital authorities on social media. The $1.2 million grant is the largest Templeton Foundation award in UT history.
“I’ve always been puzzled by how presumably reasonable people can come up with completely different strong beliefs or understandings about the same events or processes that happened or are happening in different situations affecting their personal life or our society,” Gavrilets said. “Over the last couple of years, with the 2020 elections and COVID, these differences have become particularly striking and their real and potential consequences particularly dangerous.”
The big question he wants to answer? “How are contemporary social media changing human social and cultural evolution?”
Understanding How New Authorities Develop
Gavrilets and colleague Neil Johnson from the George Washington University will leverage recent work on online behaviors to build a new understanding of how these new authorities develop and function. They will look at how these new authorities contribute to cultural polarizations and how their efforts and impacts are influenced.
“We will study the emergence of self-organized groups spouting extremism, hate, and vaccine hesitancy within and across social media platforms,” Gavrilets said. “We will look at their structure and try to understand how its composition defines who listens and how these new identity groups emerge.”
Gavrilets, a mathematical biologist whose work focuses on human social behavior, will borrow ideas and theoretical tools from ecology and evolutionary biology and apply them to human social behaviors online.
“This work will not only help us to understand online human social behaviors better, but also how our attitudes and beliefs are shaped,” said Gavrilets, who also is the director of the Center for the Dynamics of Social Complexity at UT.
“Misinformation about science, climate change, vaccination, COVID, and political processes and events has a potential to affect the life, prosperity, and wellbeing of everyone in a negative way,” Gavrilets said. “By understanding how new social and cultural authorities are formed online, we can develop better policies for governments and businesses to counter misinformation and simultaneously promote public understanding of science-based policies aiming to improve our life and prosperity.”
About the John Templeton Foundation
Founded in 1987, the John Templeton Foundation supports research and catalyzes conversations that inspire people with awe and wonder. They fund work on subjects ranging from black holes and evolution to creativity, forgiveness, and free will. They also encourage civil, informed dialogue among scientists, philosophers, theologians, and the public at large. Their aspiration is to help people create lives of meaning and purpose and to become a global catalyst for discoveries that contribute to human flourishing.
With an endowment of $3.8 billion and annual giving of approximately $140 million, the Foundation ranks among the 25 largest grantmaking foundations in the United States. Headquartered outside Philadelphia, their philanthropic activities have engaged all major faith traditions and extended to more than 57 countries around the world.
In Their Own Words: Daniel Simberloff https://academic.oup.com/bioscience/article/72/10/945/6612801#no-access-message