2017 American Naturalist Student Paper Award

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The American Naturalist Student Paper Award is for work that was published in 2016 and that was performed primarily by the first author and primarily while she or he was an undergraduate or graduate student. There were over fifty eligible papers. 

The recipient of the 2017 award is Seema Sheth for her paper "Artificial selection reveals high genetic variation in phenology at the trailing edge of a species range," coauthored with her advisor Amy Angert (Am Nat 187(2):182-193). The question of whether populations at range edges have less potential to adapt to environmental change is important and unresolved.  Other studies have made timid approaches to this question; hers took it on boldly and directly. Even though artificial selection is now a standard approach in experimental evolution, her paper stood out because the design was comprehensive (including different regions of the range edge), well-motivated (in choosing to select on phenology and to monitor correlated changes in relevant traits), and strongly linked to empirical phenomena (using genotypes from natural populations). The results were dramatic and some were unexpected. The specific difference between the leading and trailing range edges could not have been predicted, and the incorporation of costs of evolution in phenology help explain this difference.

We found the paper’s discussion to be particularly well-composed, adding critical nuance to expectations for differences in adaptive potential at range boundaries and highlighting important implications for a broad area of research. We concluded that Dr. Sheth’s work sets a new standard for empirical studies exploring the role of adaptive potential in range dynamics. 

See her lay summary here.

The award comes with a $500 prize from the ASN, as well as a free year's membership in the society, and $100 in books of the winner's choice from the University of Chicago Press. 

Honorable Mentions

Two authors also earned Honorable Mentions:

•    Timothée Bonnet, for his paper Successful by chance? The power of mixed models and neutral simulations for the detection of individual fixed heterogeneity in fitness components (coauthored by Erik Postma). We were impressed by this paper because it bears on a general and important question, the explanation of heterogeneity among individuals in fitness components; it uses theoretical tools to propose a method allowing one to evaluate different hypotheses on the origin of this heterogeneity, then applies them to an empirical case. This is exceptionally sophisticated work. We are convinced that it has long-lasting value that furthers the goals of The American Naturalist, and of evolutionary biology as a whole.

•    Diane Lawrence, for her paper The effect of immigration on the adaptation of microbial communities to warming (coauthored by Thomas Bell and Tim Barraclough). We found her microbial evolution experiment, showing that species interactions matter more for more community-level adaptation than does immigration of locally-adapted individual species, to be novel and conceptually rich. It offers an exciting challenge to the way we think about the effects of warming in natural communities.

Judith L. Bronstein, Editor-in-Chief
Yannis Michalakis, Editor
Alice Winn, Editor