British Ecological Society announces journal prize winners 30 April

The winning authors. Top row (L-R): Renato Morais, Natalie Jones, Pu Jia, Blanca Arroyo-Correa. Bottom row (L-R): Atul Joshi, Arthur Porto, Tristan Derham, Christina Service.

Today the British Ecological Society (BES) has announced the winners of its journal prizes for research published in 2020. The prizes are awarded for the best paper by an early career researcher in seven of the BES journals: Functional Ecology, Journal of Animal Ecology, Journal of Applied Ecology, Journal of Ecology, Methods in Ecology and Evolution, People and Nature, and for the first time, Ecological Solutions and Evidence.

The prizes are awarded annually to the best paper in each journal written by an early career author at the start of their research career. The winning papers are selected by the Senior Editors of the journals. The awards will be presented to the winners at the BES Annual Meeting in Liverpool.

The winners receive a prize of £250, membership of the BES, a year’s subscription to the respective journal, and a contribution to the costs incurred in attending the BES Annual Meeting in the UK if they wish to give a presentation on their work.

This year’s exceptional winning papers span topics as diverse as spirit bear genetics, coral reef productivity, plants reclaiming mining land and classifying elephants as refugees.

This year’s journal prize winners are as follows:

The Haldane Prize: Renato Morais, James Cook University

The Functional Ecology JBS Haldane Early Career Researcher Award is given is given each year to the best paper in the journal from an early career author.

Renato Morais has been awarded this year’s prize for their article: Severe coral loss shifts energetic dynamics on a coral reef

In the study, an international team of researchers led by James Cook University compared reef survey data collected on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef from 2003-2004 and 2018. Renato and co-authors evaluated how metrics of energy flow and storage that underscore critical coral reef function respond to severe coral loss.

Renato Morais said:

I am grateful for having the opportunity to develop an interesting, yet unexpected, project during my PhD, and very thrilled to accept the 2020 Haldane Prize from BES for the paper.

Enrico Rezende, Senior Editor of Functional Ecology said: “By combining detailed longitudinal surveys with sound theoretical analyses, Morais and colleagues provide a detailed account of the shift in energy dynamics during the degradation of a coral reef.”

The Elton Prize: Natalie Jones, The University of Queensland (The University of California, San Diego during the research)

The Elton Prize is awarded each year for the best paper in the Journal of Animal Ecology written by an early career author at the start of their research career. The winner is selected by the Senior Editors of the journal.

Natalie Jones has been awarded this year’s prize for their article Predators drive community reorganization during experimental range shifts

In the winning article, Natalie Jones (at the University of California, San Diego during the research and now the University of Queensland) simulated climate warming and elevational migration by zooplankton in the presence and absence of fish predators.

Natalie Jones said:

I hope that this paper will serve as a foundational example of research linking trophic interactions to range shifts.

Nate Sanders, Senior Editor of Journal of Animal Ecology said: “Figuring out how biotic and abiotic factors influence the assembly of novel communities is complicated. There are a lot of ins and a lot of outs; a lot of strands to keep in your head. Natalie Jones and colleagues were able to keep those strands in their heads and designed an elegant study aimed at documenting the ins and outs of the combined and relative effects of warming and fish predation on the assembly of novel zooplankton communities.”

The Southwood Prize: Pu Jia, South China Normal University

The Southwood Prize is awarded each year for the best paper in the Journal of Applied Ecology written by an early career author at the start of their research career. The winner is selected by the Senior Editors of the Journal.

Pu Jia, has been awarded this year’s prize for their article Plant diversity enhances the reclamation of degraded lands by stimulating plant-soil feedbacks

The article explored the effects of plant diversity on degraded mine lands, finding that increasing diversity enhances the reclamation of these lands.

Jos Barlow, Senior Editor of the Journal of Applied Ecology said: “This article is an example of great ecology, which contributes to the classic debate of the value of biodiversity, but in a novel and management-relevant way. The results lead to clear recommendations about land reclamation after mining, highlighting the importance of species diversity and the role of specific plant families and species.”

Nathalie Pettorelli, also a Senior Editor for the journal said: “This article fills an important gap in literature (i.e., how do you reclaim contaminated land for biodiversity conservation?). It also is very topical with it being the UN decade of restoration. This is the kind of science we need.”

On winning the prize, Pu Jia said: “I am so happy to hear the news – thanks to the senior editors for their recognition. Their comments have inspired me deeply, and it is an honour to receive this award for our paper.”

The Harper Prize:

The John L Harper Early Career Researcher Award is given each year to the best paper in the Journal of Ecology by an early career author at the start of their career. The winner is selected by the Senior Editors of the Journal.

This year two researchers have been awarded the Harper Prize: Blanca Arroyo-Correa, Doñana Biological Station, for their article Alien plants and flower visitors disrupt the seasonal dynamics of mutualistic networks and Atul Joshi, National Centre for Biological Sciences, Bengaluru, for their article Frost maintains forests and grasslands as alternate states in a montane tropical forest-grassland mosaic; but alien tree invasion and warming can disrupt this balance.

Blanca’s winning paper presented results of a novel study investigating the disruptive effects of both alien plants and alien pollinators on temporal changes in plant-pollinator networks.

Professor David Gibson, Senior Editor of Journal of Ecology, said: “Blanca’s paper not only addresses important concepts related to our understanding of the effects of alien species, but it has important conservation implications suggesting that managers need to account for the seasonal dynamics of trophic interactions.”

Blanca Arroyo-Correa said: “I am extremely proud of this study as it represents my very first experience of actively engaging my own research questions and being involved in a project from scratch. One of the most enjoyable parts was to collaborate with two excellent researchers, Carine Emer (Federal University of Pernambuco) and Laura Burkle (Montana State University), who were immensely supportive and encouraging during the conduct of this research.”

Atul Joshi’s paper similarly shows how alien species can disrupt ecological processes. In this case, Atul and colleagues show that alien species and climate warming can affect the balance between alternate states in a montane tropical forest-grassland mosaic.

David Gibson said: “Fire and herbivory are usually considered to drive forest-grassland transitions. However, through a combination of field germination and seedling survival experiments, Atul showed that frosts and freezing temperatures limit tree establishment into grassland areas of the mosaic.”

Atul said: “This study resolves a century-long academic debate on what maintains the forest-grassland mosaics in the tropical montane forest (shola) – grassland ecosystems in the high elevation Western Ghats Biodiversity Hotspot in India. The results of our research, reported in this paper, provide conclusive empirical evidence for a primary role of frost and freezing temperatures in limiting tree establishment in grasslands of these highly diverse mosaic ecosystems.”

The Robert May Prize: Arthur Porto, Louisiana State University

The Methods in Ecology and Evolution (MEE) Robert May early career researcher award is named after Lord May, from the University of Oxford. The prize is awarded annually to the best paper submitted by an early career author at the start of their research career. The winner is selected by the Senior Editors of the journal.

Arthur Porto has been awarded this year’s prize for their article ML‐morph: A fast, accurate and general approach for automated detection and landmarking of biological structures in images

The article presents a new approach to collecting organisms’ measurements. With potentially many measurements needed in some studies, the time taken to do this can be a major bottleneck in research.

“Taking advantage of the machine learning and state-of-the-art validation methods, the new method presented by Arthur Porto and colleagues speeds up the whole process of landmarking (identifying and measuring key parts) by orders of magnitude relative to manual measurements, with comparable accuracy.” said Rob Freckleton, Senior Editor of the journal.

Arthur Porto said: “Despite many recent advances in biology, we still spend too much time manually extracting data from images. However, the field of computer vision now offers the opportunity for us to automate image-based data collection. In our paper, we created a new, lightweight and general tool to do so.”

The Rachel Carson Prize: Tristan Derham, University of Tasmania

The Rachel Carson Prize is awarded each year for the best paper in the journal People and Nature written by an early career author at the start of their research career. The winner is selected by the Senior Editors of the journal.

Tristan Derham has been awarded this year’s prize for their article Elephants as refugees

Displacement of animals through climate change and habitat loss has led to the term ‘refugee’ being used for animals. This article examines whether African Elephants can be deemed refugees by using the criteria in the Refugee Convention and finds that some elephants would indeed fit the criteria as they have been displaced from their countries by persecution and are too fearful (or physically unable) to return to the protection of their countries.

Tristan Derham said: “Describing the situation of those animals in terms of refugeehood is a different approach to animal ethics, which usually focusses on rights or welfare. Perhaps seeing animals in this way opens doors to new kinds of policy for them, and more action on the ground.”

Rob Fish, Lead Editor, said:

Elephants as refugees is a paper that embodies the spirit of what I imagined our journal to be. Thought-provoking, topical and eye-catching! A worthy winner. One of our early greatest hits.

Clare Palmer, Associate Editor of the journal said: “Elephants as Refugees is the kind of paper every editor hopes to receive. It offers an original approach to a pressing, real-world issue: the displacement of threatened elephants.”

The Ecological Solutions and Evidence Prize: Christina Service, University of Victoria

The Ecological Solutions and Evidence Prize is a new prize that will be awarded each year for the best paper in the journal Ecological Solutions and Evidence written by an early career author at the start of their research career. The winner is selected by the Senior Editors of the journal.

Christina Service has been awarded this year’s prize for their article Spatial patterns and rarity of the white‐phased ‘Spirit bear’ allele reveal gaps in habitat protection

Christina and colleagues examined the population genetics of the spirit bear (a rare morph of the American black bear), dispelling previous beliefs about how this population is maintained, and found that the gene giving rise to spirit bears is less common than previously estimated. Further, they found that about half of the spirit bear hotspots were located outside of protected areas.

Marc Cadotte, Senior Editor of the journal said: “This study provides a superb example of combining observational, genetic and spatial information to provide unparalleled conservation information.”

Christina Service said: “The allele frequency we report in this work was substantially lower than previously estimated in the academic literature. However, this result wasn’t “new” to the communities I collaborate with. Rather, it aligns with the Kitasoo/Xai’xais First Nation’s oral history that 1 in 10 black bears are white (a Spirit bear), serving as a reminder of the last ice age and the hardships those times brought.

“This work advances applied conservation science by focusing on the conservation of a rare colour morph, rather than species, of tremendous cultural and economic importance.”

/Public Release. This material comes from the originating organization/author(s)and may be of a point-in-time nature, edited for clarity, style and length. The views and opinions expressed are those of the authors.View in full here.