LSU biologist receives Linnean Medal

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BATON ROUGE – According to LSU, world-renowned evolutionary biologist and research associate in LSU’s Department of Biological Sciences Mary jane west eberhard became a recipient of the prestigious Linnaean Medal for 2021.

Linnaean society in London West-Eberhard said won the medal for his “significant contribution to the science of natural history and to the natural science community at large”.

LSU says that as one of seven women to be awarded the Linnean Medal in Zoology, West-Eberhard’s decades-long work with tropical social wasps serves as “testimony to what a keen observer of the natural history can contribute to evolutionary biology ”.

West-Eberhard expressed his enthusiasm upon receiving the award, saying: “I was delighted to receive the Linnean Medal, as it draws attention to the role of fieldwork and the integrative role of natural history. in biology. Also, in its very long history, it was given to some of my heroes of the past. It encourages me to keep working!

She was an entomologist who first became interested in social insects and what they can teach people about the evolution of societies when she was an undergraduate student.

“I asked why organizations live in society. It doesn’t matter if it’s insects, elephants or humans, ”she said.

West-Eberhard is a Scientist Emeritus at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama, based in Costa Rica since 1979. She and her husband Bill spend several months a year in Baton Rouge as research associates at LSU. Their daughter, Jessica Eberhard, is an Assistant Research Professor and their son-in-law, Kyle Harms, is the Mary Lou Applewhite Professor of Biological Sciences at LSU.

“We have many valuable colleagues in biology at LSU and we feel particularly comfortable at the LSU Museum of Natural Science, as we are both evolutionary biologists and the LSU Museum of Natural Science is world renowned for its collections and the work of its staff and students in the fields of systematics and natural history. Many of them have done important research in the tropics, ”she said.

In his research, West-Eberhard has championed the important role of concepts such as kinship selection, which include behaviors that may appear altruistic but actually contribute to the survival of family members and, therefore, to inheritance. of shared genes, as well as to sexual selection, or how competition for mates through social interactions leads to differences in reproductive success and genetic evolution.

For example, she has shown that the division of labor between a queen, or a breeding individual, and her non-breeding daughters, who go out and bring food back to the nest, can be a mutualistic or kinship arrangement that works for individual benefit. . . In 2003, she published a 618-page book, “Developmental Plasticity and Evolution”, which clearly articulates the concept and brings together countless examples of phenotypic plasticity, including the contribution of flexible behavior to survival and therefore evolution. . His book has been recognized as a classic in evolutionary biology.

The father of evolution, Charles Darwin, gave his first public presentation on the theory of evolution by natural selection to the Linnean Society in 1858.

West-Eberhard is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of Sciences and has served on its human rights committee as vice president. She has also served on the advisory board of the National Center for Science Education and, along with her husband Bill, has helped support the careers of many young scientists, particularly in Latin America.

“I would encourage people to seek out things that they love and have a passion for, and that passion should not reflect how much money they can raise,” she said.


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