BES awards 2023 – Meet the winners

We are proud to announce the winners of the 2023 BES awards and prizes!

Top row (L-R) Robin Chazdon, Daniel Simberloff, Monica Turner, Katharine Abernethy, Nathalie Pettorelli, Maria Dornelas. Bottom row (L-R) Simon Lewis, David Kimiti, Rebecca Senior, Nibedita Mukherjee, Asha de Vos.

Our annual awards and prizes recognise distinguished ecologists and groups whose work has benefited the scientific community and society in general. This year we have 11 winners spread across 5 continents, representing the breadth of our ecological community.

Yadvinder Malhi, President of the British Ecological Society, said: “It’s an honour to recognise and celebrate the extraordinary contributions that ecologists around the world are making to advancing ecology and communicating its importance for our society.”

Meet the winners

Honorary Membership: Honorary membership is the highest honour we can give and it recognises an exceptional contribution at international level to the generation, communication and promotion of ecological knowledge and solutions.


Robin Chazdon, University of the Sunshine Coast, Australia

Professor Robin Chazdon has been studying tropical forest ecology for more than 45 years. Over her career she has held numerous high level positions including President of the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation, member-at-large of the governing board of the Ecological Society of America and Executive Director of the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation.

Robin is still actively engaged in the science, policy, and practice of forest and landscape restoration, with research into tropical forest succession, assisted natural regeneration, and forest recovery from logging and disturbances. 

Daniel Simberloff, University of Tennessee, USA

“I am deeply grateful that the BES would grant such a high honour to me.

Professor Daniel Simberloff’s career in ecology began at Harvard College in the laboratory of the great Edward O. Wilson, who advised Daniel’s doctorate on testing of the equilibrium theory of island biogeography with the arthropod communities of small mangrove islands. This work led to a lifelong interest in the community level of organisation – exploring which species are found together, which are not found together, and why. 

Daniel is currently Gore Hunger Professor of Environmental Science at the University of Tennessee, editor-in-chief of the journal Biological Invasions, and a member of the National Academy of Sciences. 

When asked what it means to win this award, Daniel said: “I have been an avid reader of BES journals since my earliest graduate school days and frequently cite them. I am humbled and deeply grateful that the Society would give such an honour to me.”

Monica Turner, University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA

Monica Turner is the Eugene P. Odum Professor of Ecology and a Vilas Research Professor in the Department of Integrative Biology, University of Wisconsin-Madison. For over 30 years Monica has studied fire, vegetation dynamics, nutrient cycling, bark beetle outbreaks, and climate change in Greater Yellowstone, including long-term research on the 1988 Yellowstone fires. 

Monica Turner is a past president of the Ecological Society of America (ESA); a recipient of ESA’s Robert H. MacArthur Award, ESA’s Eminent Ecologist Award, and the Franklin Institute’s Benjamin Franklin Medal in Earth and Environmental Sciences; and a member of the US National Academy of Sciences.


President’s Medal: Our President awards this prestigious honour at the end of each term of office (every two years). It was established in 1987 and is the personal gift of the President.

Winner: Katharine Abernethy, University of Stirling, UK

“Her dedication and insight have been essential to Gabon’s conservation success.

Professor Katharine Abernethy has spent much of her research career studying ape ecology and has pioneered research into the ecology of mandrills. Katharine’s work has influenced environmental policy through several high-profile projects, including The National Strategy for Bushmeat Management in Gabon, helping to make Gabon a leader in conservation.

Katharine Abernethy is Professor in Tropical Ecology at the University of Stirling and a member of the IUCN Species Survival Commission. She is also a successful botanical artist whose work is widely published. 

BES President Yadvinder Malhi, who chose the recipient of the award, said “I have witnessed first-hand Katharine’s dedication to maintaining long-term ecological observations and research in Gabon under challenging conditions, her deep commitment to capacity-strengthening in Central Africa, and often invisible behind-the-scenes support for all the conservation and policy activities that have made Gabon a leader in this arena. 


BES Award: This Award is made in recognition of exceptional service to the Society.

Winner: Nathalie Pettorelli, Zoological Society of London, UK

Nathalie Pettorelli is a professor of conservation biology at the Institute of Zoology at the Zoological Society of London, with research interests spanning biodiversity monitoring, climate change ecology and nature-based solutions to climate change. 

Nathalie’s exceptional service to the BES over many years has seen her taking on several diverse rolls, including a highly successful spell as chair of the BES Conservation Special Interest Group (SIG) between 2014 – 2018. During this time, Nathalie galvanised the conservation community and made the group one of the most active SIGs.


Marsh Award for Ecology: This prize is awarded for an outstanding current research record which is having a significant impact on the development of the science of ecology or its application. It is provided by the Marsh Charitable Trust and administered by the British Ecological Society.

Winner: Maria Dornelas, University of St Andrews, UK

“Science is a collective effort. Any achievements are ours, not just mine.

Professor Maria Dornelas has made substantial contributions to our understanding of the severity of the biodiversity crises. Maria’s work on quantifying biodiversity and understanding the processes that shape it, particularly in coral reefs, has provided a much more nuanced view of the complexity of biodiversity changes. 

Maria discussed what it meant for her to receive this award: “I am incredibly honoured to receive the Marsh Award for Ecology, and extremely grateful to have been nominated and selected. I am also grateful to have been so lucky in my career, in being surrounded by outstanding scientists who are also wonderful people, as mentors, colleagues, collaborators and lab members. Science is a collective effort, and any advances I may have achieved, are ours not mine.”


Marsh Award for Climate Change Research: This prize is awarded for an outstanding contribution to climate change research. It is provided by the Marsh Charitable Trust and administered by the British Ecological Society.

Winner: Simon Lewis, University College London, UK

Simon Lewis is Professor of Global Change Science at University College London. Through his career, Simon has worked on several major research projects including long term studies of tropical forest ecology and the interactions between human populations and tropical plants, quantifying the best approaches to restoring degraded forests, and combining ground and satellite data to monitor tropical forest carbon stocks. 


Marsh Award for Ecologists in Africa: This prize aims to celebrate the significant scientific achievements of African ecologists and raise their profile in the UK. It is provided by the Marsh Charitable Trust and administered by the British Ecological Society.

Winner: David Kimiti, Grevy’s Zebra Trust, Kenya

“I recognised the need to bridge the gap between conservation research and practice.

Dr David Kimiti started his career studying elephant impact on vegetation in Laikipia, Kenya, before working on Rangeland health research. David is now Director of Research and Impact at Grevy’s Zebra Trust, where he provides oversight on ecological monitoring of the endangered Grevy’s zebra.

David shed light on his career so far by saying “I grew up on the slopes of Mount Kenya and completed my undergraduate studies in Nairobi. I was lucky that one of my first ecology jobs involved working at a research centre with pastoralists to monitor the health of their rangelands. I quickly recognized the need to bridge the gap between conservation research and conservation practice, especially on African rangelands. 

“The news that I had won this award came as quite the pleasant surprise, it’s a huge honour. I am certain that the nominee pool was full of many deserving African colleagues. To even be considered for this award is a testament of the strength of  the training opportunities provided by the mentors and advisors that have supported my career. It is also a welcome validation of the work that my colleagues, collaborating partners, and I have been doing in one of the most beautiful but complex ecosystems in the world.”


Founders’ Prize: This Prize commemorates the enthusiasm and vision of the Society’s founders. It is awarded to an outstanding early career ecologist who is starting to make a significant contribution to the science of ecology.

Winner: Rebecca Senior, University of Durham, UK

Dr Rebecca Senior is a conservation scientist with a passion for using quantitative tools and technology to understand the drivers of biodiversity loss, and to identify pragmatic solutions to mitigate that loss. Rebecca is currently leading exciting novel research in microclimate ecology, and has been instrumental in developing this new topic area. 

“It’s a complete shock and honour to receive this award! Given the calibre of the previous recipients, it is certainly a surprise to find my own name being added to the list,” said Rebecca. “I am full of gratitude towards the many beings who have helped me along the way: my family and friends, my dogs, my mentors, and all the other ecologists out there who inspire and motivate me. The BES means a lot to me, as the home of my first conference and my first first-author paper, so the recognition is really gratifying.”


Ecological Engagement Award: This Award recognises an ecologist who has bridged the gap between ecology and other groups.

Winner: Nibedita Mukherjee, Department of Social and Political Sciences, Brunel University London, UK

“I hope those of colour, and particularly women find encouragement to continue working with nature.

Dr Nibedita (‘Nibu’) Mukherjee is a lecturer in the department of Social and Political Sciences at Brunel University London. Nibedita works on the interface between social and natural sciences and has made serious development into getting science embedded into policy and practice. At a relatively early career stage, Nibedita has managed to have a remarkable level of impactful policy involvement. 

Nibu described her work: “The primary driving force of my research is to improve how decisions are made in biodiversity conservation. I am an interdisciplinary scholar and draw from varied knowledge forms. One of my current projects aims to look at how we can improve business and biodiversity linkages.”

On winning the award, Nibu added: “I am very grateful and honoured to have been chosen for this award. There have been several moments in the last six years when I have suffered from self-doubt about my engagements with policy. It has been gruelling at times. The brutality of intersectionality at multiple levels is a constant reminder of the pressures that such work involves.

“I hope through this award, those coming after me (especially those from the Global South, first generation immigrants in academia, those of colour, and particularly women) may find the encouragement to carry on the good work for nature.”


Equality and Diversity Champion: This annual award recognises an individual or group who have campaigned to highlight the importance of equality and diversity and worked to make a difference or served as an inspiration to others. It honours and celebrates those who have made significant, innovative and cumulatively outstanding contributions to enhancing the practice of equality and diversity in the ecological community. 

Winner: Asha de Vos, Oceanswell, Sri Lanka

Dr Asha de Vos is a marine biologist, ocean educator and founder of Sri Lanka’s first marine conservation research and education organization, Oceanswell. Asha is widely known for her research highlighting the importance of tropical ecosystems to the life of a non-migratory population of blue whales found around Sri Lanka. Asha uses storytelling as a tool to share the magic of our world’s oceans and wants to equip and empower the next generation of diverse ocean heroes to become custodians of their patch of ocean. 

Asha said: “I was floored when I got the email telling me I had won this award – I felt incredibly humbled to have been selected. I have chosen to dedicate myself to breaking glass ceilings so others will not face the same discrimination and naysaying as I have.

“As the task of ensuring that these spaces are more inclusive, diverse and equitable falls squarely on the shoulders of a few of us, primarily those of us from minorities, that care to do more than grow our own individual careers with no compensation or applause, to be recognised for this component of my work and journey is a win not just for me, but for everyone who believes that we can and must do much better.”

The award ceremony

The winners will be presented with their prizes during a ceremony held at the BES Annual Meeting which runs from 12 – 15 December in Belfast. The meeting will bring together over 1000 ecologists (in person and online) to discuss the latest advances in ecological research across the whole discipline.