British Ecological Society announces journal prize winners

The winning authors. Clockwise from top left: Yingying Wang, Uriah Daugaard, Ségolène Humann‐Guilleminot, Maria Leunda, Corneile Minnaar, Beth Brockett.

Today the British Ecological Society (BES) has announced the winners of its journal prizes for research published in 2019. The prizes are awarded for the best paper by an early career researcher in six of the BES journals: Functional Ecology, Journal of Animal Ecology, Journal of Applied Ecology, Journal of Ecology, Methods in Ecology and Evolution and People and Nature.

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 Edinburgh. 

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 carbon farming, ice caves and quantum pollination.

The journal prize winners are as follows:

  • The Haldane Prize: Yingying Wang, Wageningen University (currently University of Jyväskylä) 

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

Yingying Wang has been awarded this year’s prize for her article Phylogenetic structure of wildlife assemblages shapes patterns of infectious livestock diseases in Africa 

Understanding the transmission of infectious diseases between wildlife and livestock is important for maintaining the health of both groups. However, relationships between infectious diseases and biodiversity are complex due to differences in species’ ability to acquire and pass on pathogens.

Yingying’s winning paper explored how variables related to the mix of wildlife in a location, the density of livestock and an area’s climate influences the presence of livestock disease and total number of diseases.

They found that disease occurrence and total number were higher in areas inhabited by closely related species of wildlife. Yingying and colleagues theorise that this might be because pathogens can transmit more easily among such species.

On winning the prize, Yingying said: “Receiving this prize is a great honour. It is one of the most important events of my career. This prize improves my self-confidence and motivates me to work harder.” 

  • The Elton Prize: Uriah Daugaard, University of Zurich 

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. 

Uriah Daugaard has been awarded this year’s prize for his article Warming can destabilize predator–prey interactions by shifting the functional response from Type III to Type II 

In the paper, which looked at the impact of temperature on predator-prey systems, Uriah and colleagues found that increasing temperature can destabilise predator-prey interactions by shifting the interaction from Type III (stabilizing) to Type II (destabilizing). 

Uriah said: “Knowing how warming influences the dependency of predator feeding rates on prey abundances is poorly understood. But this is important as the type of functional response has a strong effect on population and community stability.” 

This under-appreciated mechanism has a range of implications for numerous theoretical studies, meaning the results of the study are likely to make a significant contribution to the field. 

Darren Evans, Senior Editor of Journal of Animal Ecology said:

We were impressed with how Uriah had designed, executed and mostly completed this paper as an undergraduate.

“His critical thinking and attention to detail including some smaller experiments to minimise measurement error is apparent throughout the paper and exemplifies the quality and standard of work we expect at the Journal of Animal Ecology.” 

  • The Southwood Prize: Ségolène Humann‐Guilleminot, University of Bern 

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. 

Ségolène Humann‐Guilleminot has been awarded this year’s prize for her article A nation‐wide survey of neonicotinoid insecticides in agricultural land with implications for agri‐environment schemes 

Ségolène and colleagues research assessed the presence and effects of neonicotinoid insecticides in Swiss agro-ecosystems, two years after a subset of these were banned in Europe and Switzerland. 

They found that neonicotinoid insecticides were ubiquitous in the Swiss agricultural landscapes and estimate that these residues may have significant negative impacts on non-target invertebrates with little benefits in terms of crop protection against pest species. 

Based on their results, Ségolène and colleagues call for a reduction in the overuse of neonicotinoid insecticides worldwide in order to prevent detrimental effects on biodiversity and ecosystem services. 

Jos Barlow, Executive Editor of the journal, said: “Ségolène was a worthy winner in a very competitive field. It is a rigorous study and a significant one for guiding national and international farming policies. In particular, Ségolène and her co-authors provide robust evidence supporting the continued implementation of the EU ban on most neonicotinoid pesticides.” 

On winning the award, Ségolène said: “For me, wining this prize is the recognition of a tremendous and demanding, yet exhilarating Master’s work. Women can definitely do as much as men 

  • The Harper Prize: Maria Leunda, University of Bern 

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. 

Maria Leunda has been awarded this year’s prize for her article Ice cave reveals environmental forcing of long‐term Pyrenean tree line dynamics 

The study used ice cave deposits to assess tree line dynamics, and ecosystem resilience to climate changes 5,700–2,200 years ago for the first time in the Pyrenees. 

Amy Austin, Senior Editor of the Journal of Ecology said: “The demonstration of changes in treeline and forest community composition in relatively short palaeoecological time scales (millennium) is a strong and convincing result, which I believe can be informative about future climate changes. 

I was impressed by the use of these ice caves, natural ecological repositories of information frozen in time and space. Congratulations to the authors on this ‘timely’ study. 

On winning the prize, Maria Leunda said: “I am honoured to receive the prize, which is a nice reward of the hard work done by a great group. This award highlights the potential of ice caves and the high value of palaeoecology to assess future ecosystem dynamics in alpine environments.” 

  • The Robert May Prize: Corneile Minnaar, Stellenbosch 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.  

Corneile Minnaar has been awarded this year’s prize for his article Using quantum dots as pollen labels to track the fates of individual pollen grains 

Knowing how pollen moves around, and whether they successfully fertilise ovules is central to understanding the evolution and ecology of flowering plants (angiosperms) and floral traits. But so far directly tracking the movement of individual pollen grains has been impossible for most species. 

In his winning paper Corneile Minnaar used quantum dots to track pollen grains of four plant species. Quantum dots are extraordinarily tiny semiconductor nanocrystals that behave like atoms and emit bright visible and infrared light when exposed with an ultraviolet light source. By following the movement of well-attached dots to pollen grains, Corneile was able to track the pollen from one plant to another. 

Aaron Ellison, Senior Editor of Methods in Ecology in Evolution said: “The cost-effective (≈ US$ 0.02/flower) methodology that Corneile has developed will provide new opportunities to explore central open questions in plant biology including the magnitude and frequency of pollen loss during pollenmovement and the importance of this movement in speciation and diversification of angiosperms.” 

On winning the award Corneile said: “Methods developed for studies of ecology and evolution used to be relegated to supplementary materials, scribbled in notebooks, or shared between colleagues behind the scenes. Methods in Ecology and Evolution has lifted the painstaking effort of method development into formal recognition. For this reason, it is one of my favourite journals and I’m honoured to even be considered amongst the fantastic group of shortlist candidates.” 

  • The Rachel Carson Prize: Beth Brockett, Lancaster University 

The Rachel Carson Prize is awarded for the best paper in the journal People and Nature written by an early career author at the start of their research career. This is the first year the prize has been awarded.

Beth Brockett has been awarded this year’s prize for her article Guiding carbon farming using interdisciplinary mixed methods mapping 

Soil carbon farming is a term given to interventions like planting trees or rewetting previously drained soils. These can both mitigate global warming and improve soil health.

Normally when identifying soil carbon farming opportunities researchers rely on natural science methods. Beth’s innovative study combines methods like walking interviews with landowners and soil surveys to collect data for soil carbon farming maps.

Yvonne Buckley, Associate Editor of People and Nature who handled the manuscript said: “This paper exemplifies the approach of the journal, it demonstrates the importance of investigating the ecological and social aspects of carbon farming together. The benefits of the integrated mixed methods approach to mapping carbon are clearly articulated. The tensions between qualitative and quantitative findings were a rich opportunity for new insights. 

On winning the award Beth said:

It is heartening to see truly interdisciplinary environmental research celebrated through the creation of the Rachel Carson award and I am delighted to be the first recipient, thank you People and Nature.