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  • AOU Honors Kress, Morris, Jahn, Bensch, and Hill

    Fern Davies
    • At the annual meeting in Estes Park, the AOU presented the Coues award to Staffan Bensch and the Brewster award to Geoff Hill. Sara Morris was recognized for her service to the AOU with the Jenkinson award and Steven Kress was the recipient of the Schreiber Conservation Award. The Ned Johnson Young Investigator award was bestowed on Alex Jahn.






    The RW Schreiber Conservation Award honors extraordinary scientific contributions to the conservation, restoration, or preservation of birds and/or their habitats by an individual or small team.


    This year’s recipient is a conservation legend. Dr. Stephen Kress from the National Audubon Society is internationally known as the founder of “Project Puffin”, his decades long effort to restore Atlantic Puffins to their original breeding islands in the Gulf of Maine.




    The story of Project Puffin and the resulting success is unprecedented. The project required extensive knowledge of the breeding biology and natural history of puffins. The Project crew prepared Eastern Egg Rock by creating burrows de novo and removing predators, then transporting the chicks and establishing them in their new burrows, and then raising the birds entirely by hand to independence.


    Because puffins take 4-5 years before they return to the colony to breed for the first time and the Project personnel worked to create an environment, that would “welcome” the puffins back and encourage them to stay without any reassurance if or when the birds would return.


    Incredibly enough, all of the work paid off, and a successfully self-sustaining breeding colony of Atlantic Puffins was reestablished at Eastern Egg Rock. In 1981, there were four nesting pairs at Eastern Egg Rock, and now over 120 pairs nest on the island.


    While waiting for the Egg Rock puffins to return and for the colony to grow, Steve and Project Puffin staff worked to restore seabirds on other islands. They transplanted puffins to Seal Island in Penobscot Bay and created a second self-sustaining colony that grew to 546 pairs in 2011.


    In addition to puffins, Steve and his staff began working to restore populations of other seabirds, specially terns and storm-petrels, to Maine. According to USFWS:


    –96% of the Arctic Terns breeding in the lower 48 states do so on Gulf of Maine islands

    -- 85% of all Razorbills

    -- 90% of all Atlantic puffins breeding in the US do so o n Gulf of Maine islands.

    The techniques developed through Project Puffin have been used on at least 40 seabird species in 12 countries including the Dark-rumped Petrels (Ecuador), Short-tailed Albatross (Japan), Gould’s Petrel (Australia), and Common Murre (California).


    Steve is currently the Vice President for Bird Conservation for the National Audubon Society as well as Director of the Society’s Maine Coast Seabird Sanctuaries.


    He has had immeasurable impact on the conservation of numerous seabird species across the globe. His work has greatly supported development of conservation policy, as well as public education, engagement and outreach.


    It is for these reasons and more that the AOU proudly awards Dr. Stephen Kress the 2014 Ralph W. Schreiber Conservation Award.











    2014 Marion Jenkinson AOU Service Award

    Sara R. Morris


    The Marion Jenkinson Service Award is given to an individual who has performed continued extensive service to the AOU, including holding elected offices but emphasizing volunteered contributions and committee participation. Recipients are selected by the AOU Executive Committee. The award consists of a framed certificate and honors Marion Jenkinson Mengel, who served the AOU as Treasurer and in other capacities for many years.




    This year’s award is presented to outgoing AOU Secretary Sara Morris for her significant contribution of service to the AOU. Sara became a member of AOU as a graduate student in 1990, was voted an Elective Member in 2004, and a Fellow in 2010. She has served on numerous AOU committees including the Web Committee (2006-present), Finance Committee (2005-2006), Student Awards Committee (2002-2003).


    We are particularly grateful to Dr. Morris for these past 8 years as Secretary of the AOU. In this role, she has served as the instant calendar, planner, by-laws expert, organizational fiend, true thinker and voice of reason on all issues facing the AOU Executive Committee and the Council. She is truly remarkable.


    Sara is also currently first vice-president of the Wilson Ornithological Society and will be its next president. Thus, she will be missed on the AOU Council and Executive Committee.


    We owe Sara a tremendous debt of gratitude for her dedication to the AOU. We believe Marion Jenkinson would be proud as well.














    This award recognizes work by an ornithologist early in his/her career who shows distinct promise for future leadership in the profession. The award honors Ned K. Johnson, a lifelong supporter and former President (1996-1998) of the AOU.


    We are pleased to present Dr. Alex Jahn with the 2014 Ned K. Johnson Young Investigator Award.




    Alex’s passion is austral migration -- a stunningly neglected topic. More than 98% of papers published on bird migration focus on migrants that breed in North America and Eurasia, despite the incredible diversity of migrants in South America. Alex charged into this void.


    For his Master’s work at the University of Arkansas, he chose to study migration in the Chaco region of Bolivia.


    His Ph.D. at the University of Florida focused on partial migration of Tropical Kingbirds that breed in Bolivia. During this time, he discovered that well-supported hypotheses to explain partial migration in North America do not apply in South America; his results firmly rejected hypotheses that are taken for granted by practically all ornithologists.


    In short, he argues that seasonality of temperature drives migration in the Northern Hemisphere, whereas seasonality of rainfall drives migration in the Southern Hemisphere.


    Alex’s unusually broad perspective on migration is widely sought out. He has written two reviews on austral migration: one in Ecological Monographs, one in Ecological Applications


    In 2013, Dr. Jahn was the first author on two groundbreaking papers in The Auk that used geolocators to provide the first documentation of a migratory passerine’s annual movements in South America.


    He is a also co-author of Guide to Birds of Bolivia, which will be published this year. The National Geographic Society has recognized the unusual scope of his work with two Research Grants.


    In summary, we believe that Alex has truly been a leader in the study of bird migration in Latin America and certainly has a bright future ahead of him. The AOU is so pleased and proud to name him as our Young Investigator of 2014.












    Staffan Bensch


    The Elliott Coues Award recognizes outstanding and innovative contributions to ornithological research regardless of the geographic location of the work. The award is named in honor of Elliott Coues, a pioneering ornithologist of the western United States and a founding member of the AOU.


    This year, the AOU presents the Elliott Coues Award to Dr. Staffan Bensch, Professor of Animal Ecology at Lund University.




    Professor Bensch is an accomplished and highly productive avian ecologist and evolutionary biologist, who has produced a significant body of work across several important areas of avian research, including:

    • genetics of migration in warblers
    • population genetics of migratory songbirds
    • the characterization, impact and evolution of avian malaria;
    • the evolution of avian sex chromosomes;
    • and the genetics of speciation in birds.

    His work in all of these areas has been ground-­‐breaking and he has produced more than 170 contributions to the scientific literature, much of it in ornithological journals.


    Professor Bensch received his doctoral degree from Lund University in 1993, conducted postdoctoral work at the University of California, San Diego in 1994-­‐1995, and has been in research and faculty appointments at Lund University since that time. He has had continuous funding from Swedish and EU funding agencies.


    He is known among biologists for showing considerable depth of knowledge in spite of the extensive breadth of his research interests and experience, and for being equally at home in the field and lab, and at the computer.


    Dr. Bensch began his career conducting analyses of the behavioral and population ecology of Swedish Great Reed Warblers, much in collaboration with Denis Hasselquist and others in this group. Staffan developed and applied powerful molecular markers and methods that proved extremely useful in assessing the mating patterns, sexual selection, population genetics and phylogeographic structure of this species.


    Staffan also developed a major program assessing the patterns of migration in Eurasian warblers, in particular assessing the origins and effects of migratory divides in differentiation and speciation. He has applied classical, isotope, and molecular marker methods to characterize these divides in the Willow Warbler, and has made great strides toward determining the genetic basis of migratory orientation and behavior with recent transcriptome sequencing and other genomic approaches.


    Recently, Staffan has had major interests and success in studying the evolution of sex chromosomes and sex-­‐limited gene expression. He and colleagues made a fascinating discovery of a novel neo-­‐sex chromosome in passerine birds, in particular in Old World warblers. A portion of chromosome 4, autosomal in other birds, is now showing sex specific patterns of gene expression, and sex-­‐linked inheritance.


    In short, Professor Staffan Bensch is a highly regarded ornithologist who has greatly enhanced our understanding of the ecology and evolution of birds and their blood parasites, and for these reasons the AOU proudly presents the Elliott Coues Award to Staffan Bensch.












    Geoffrey Hill


    The William Brewster Award is given annually to the author or co-authors of an exceptional body of work on birds of the Western Hemisphere. The award consists of a medal and an honorarium provided through the endowed William Brewster Memorial Fund of the American Ornithologists' Union. The award is in honor of William Brewster, one of the founding members of the AOU.




    This year’s recipient of the Brewster Medal is Professor Geoffrey Hill from Auburn University.


    Professor Hill is without question one of the most prolific, influential, and successful scientists who has ever worked on bird plumage coloration and the evolution of animal signals.


    Geoff has authored 225 papers, theoretical papers and book chapters in first-rate journals, (11,000 total citations) and edited a two-volume book with Kevin McGraw on bird coloration that is already a landmark publication in behavioral and evolutionary ecology.


    His books on House Finches (A Red Bird in a Brown Bag), bird colors (Bird Coloration) and Ivory-billed Woodpeckers (Ivorybill Hunters) are very popular far beyond our small scientific



    Geoff’s pioneering work on mate choice in House Finches is among the best studies ever done in this area and, consequently, his study organism is now widely viewed as one of the model systems for the study of female mate choice and sexual selection, among other things.


    Geoff is a brilliant experimentalist, with a knack for conducting elegant studies that cut to the heart of a question: his designer-finches produced by diet variation provide a good example of this. Professor Hill’s work on the carotenoid-based pigmentation of plumage coloration is now widely viewed as a classic study (his Nature paper on this has 570 citations) that helped spawn an entire area of research that continues to expand into new and interesting dimensions (e.g., the role of carotenoids in immune function).


    Geoff has also contributed in important ways to training the next generation of ornithologists and several rising stars have come through his lab as graduate students or postdocs (e.g., Kevin McGraw, Renee Duckworth, Alex Badyaev, Matt Shawkey and Stephanie Doucet, to name few).


    Therefore, with his international reputation for excellence in avian research, his outstanding record of publications, and his commitment to teaching and outreach in ornithology, the AOU proudly awards Geoff Hill the 2014 William Brewster Medal.

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