The John L Harper Early Career Researcher Award is given each year to the best paper in the journal by an early career author at the start of their career. In the absence of extenuating circumstances, ‘early career’ is defined as less than 5 years post- Ph.D. or -D.Phil. experience according to the date of your graduation certificate. The winner of the award will receive £250, membership of the BES, a year’s subscription to Journal of Ecology, 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. The winner is selected by the Editors of Journal of Ecology at the end of each year and an announcement is made early in the New Year following.
If the first author of a paper considers that they are eligible for this award they are invited to nominate themselves during the submission process of Manuscript Central. Those nominated are in the early stages of their research career.
Winner of the Harper Prize 2018
The roots of the drought: Hydrology and water uptake strategies mediate forest‐wide demographic response to precipitation. Rutuja Chitra‐Tarak, Laurent Ruiz, Handanakere S. Dattaraja, M. S. Mohan Kumar, Jean Riotte, Hebbalalu S. Suresh, Sean M. McMahon & Raman Sukumar. (Journal of Ecology, 2018, 106:4, pp 1495-1507)
The Journal of Ecology editors are pleased to award the 2018 Harper Prize to Rutuja Chitra-Tarak. Rutuja’s paper is an excellent and novel example of integrating different approaches to answer an important ecological issue. In this case, her study, conducted with six colleagues uses a combination of demographic data, hydrological data, and eco-hydrological modelling to relate tropical tree mortality rates to hydrological niches. In a seasonally dry tropical forest in the Western Ghats biodiversity hotspot in India, 12 common tree species were found to differently partition the hydrological niche by accessing water at different depths. As a result, differences in growth rates and survival reflected their demographic response to periods of drought over multi-annual scales. This work is a clear example of how niche relationships can help us understand species coexistence.
Rutuja notes that droughts resulting from climate change are an emerging risk for forests and that rooting depth and hydraulic architectural differences among species means that each tree species could experience its “own drought”. The methodological approach taken by Rutuja and her colleagues reported in this paper provides a novel way forward for future studies to better understand community-wide rooting strategies emphasizing how belowground processes can affect demographic trade-offs.
Rutuja grew up in the wilder outskirts of small-town Wardha in central India that was, in fact, Mahatma Gandhi’s final political base. She notes that in college a fascinating introduction to evolutionary biology changed her mind about the latter making it a predictive, ‘problem-solvable’ discipline on par with Maths and Physics—her favorite school subjects—yet perhaps more challenging. She received a PhD from the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, with her interests drawn by functional and community ecology of forests and sustained through enjoyable collaborative work. Rutuja then went onto to do a post-doc at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, USA to test her ideas in a variety of forest types. Now as a post-doctoral researcher at the Los Alamos National Lab in New Mexico, USA she works on devising new ways of estimating functional rooting depths of trees and integrating them into process-based models of forest dynamics so that reliable predictions of forest responses to climate change are made possible.
Find the winning paper as well as the shortlisted papers in this special virtual issue here.
Winner of the Harper Prize 2017
Neighbourhood defence gene similarity effects on tree performance: a community transcriptomic approach Jenny Zambrano, Yoshiko Iida, Robert Howe, Luxiang Lin, Maria Natalia Umana, Amy Wolf, Samantha J. Worthy, Nathan G. Swenson (Journal of Ecology, 2017, 105:3, pp 616–626)
This paper takes a community functional phylogenomic approach to understand how defence genes drive tree community structure and dynamics.
The Journal of Ecology editors are delighted to award the 2017 Harper Prize to Jenny Zambrano. Jenny’s paper is an excellent and novel example of how a community functional phylogenomic approach can be taken to understand demographic performance of co-occuring species. Demographic data on 21 species in a completely censused 25.6 Ha North American forest plot were chosen for the study. Using recent advances in sequencing and informatics the effect of dissimilarity in 27 plant defence genes among neighbours was quantified from RNA extracted from leaf tissue of greenhouse grown seedlings of each species. For 16 of 27 defence genes, individual growth rates were higher when surrounded by dissimilar heterospecific species, whereas for 4 of 27 defence genes survival rates were increased. Overall, the study shows that similarity in defence genes among neighbours can negatively affect demographic performance consistent with Janzen-Connell type dynamics. The Editors were impressed with how this study shows for the first time how a community transcriptomics framework can supplement functional trait approaches and advance our understanding of the drivers of community structure and function.
Jenny Zambrano grew up in Colombia, in a family of biologists and has always been interested in nature. It was especially forests that caught her eye and her desire to understand the processes that control forest structure and dynamics drove her career path. Jenny’s work involves examining fundamental questions in ecology by testing and integrating population and community ecology theory to better understand and predict the function and stability of forest ecosystems. Currently, Jenny is a postdoctoral fellow at the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC) where, under the supervision of Dr Nathan Swenson and Dr William Fagan, she is developing new quantitative methods and concepts, centered in spatial ecology for studying the mechanisms structuring forests.
Read the Virtual Issue bringing together the winning and highly commended papers from all the BES journals in 2015.
Winner of the Harper Prize 2016
Environmental drivers of demographic variation across the global geographical range of 26 plant species Martina Treurnicht, Jörn Pagel, Karen J. Esler, AnneLise Schutte-Vlok, Henning Nottebrock, Tineke Kraaij, Anthony G. Rebelo, Frank M. Schurr (Journal of Ecology, 104:2, pp 331-342)
The Journal of Ecology Editors are delighted to award the 2016 Harper Prize to Martina Treurnicht. Martina’s paper is an excellent example of a study testing how critical demographic vital rates, namely reproduction and survival, vary in response to the environment across the geographic range of a broad range of species. Twenty-six shrub species in the Proteaceae plant family were chosen for the study. Martina and colleagues collected 3,454 population-level records from across the global range of these species in the Cape Floristic Region of South Africa and used regression analyses to investigate rates of fecundity, recruitment and adult fire survival in response to climate, population density, fire interval, and soil nutrients. Across the range of the species, they found a trade-off between survival and reproduction, and resprouting species survived fire better than non-sprouters. Intraspecific variation in fecundity and recruitment was greater than variation in fire survival. The Editors were impressed with the geographic extent of the study as this is one of only a handful of studies that extend demographic investigations beyond individual populations to contrast environmental drivers for several species from a common, in this case fire-prone, habitat. The challenges of conducting large-scale demographic studies that were overcome in Martina’s work provide a model for future studies.
Martina Treurnicht is intrigued by questions in ‘real-world ecology’ and applied conservation. Her current PhD research, based at Stellenbosch University and supervised by Frank M. Schurr, Jörn Pagel, Karen J. Esler and Jasper Slingsby, aims to understand how large-scale demographic variation and functional traits shape the population dynamics and ecological niches of plants with fire-dependent life cycles. In addressing these aims, Martina has collected extensive demographic- and functional trait data throughout the geographical ranges of her study species.
Beyond her PhD research, Martina is an amateur botanist and conservationist. She is interested in documenting the plant diversity of the Cape Floristic Region biodiversity hotspot and concerned about conserving this region in the face of the current biodiversity crisis and ongoing global change. Martina writes popular articles to communicate her work and create awareness around these issues. Through her everyday-life, Martina aims to build bridges between academia and applied conservation by working with a diverse network of stakeholders (researchers, farmers, naturalists, amateur botanists, civil-society volunteers, school groups and conservation organisations).
Read the Virtual Issue bringing together the winning and highly commended papers from all the BES journals in 2016.
Winner of the Harper Prize 2015
A spatially explicit model for flowering time in bamboos: long rhizomes drive the evolution of delayed flowering
Yuuya Tachiki, Akifumi Makita, Yoshihisa Suyama and Akiko Satake (Journal of Ecology, 103:3, pp 585–593)
Yuuya’s paper has been selected for this year’s Harper prize as an excellent example of a mathematical modeling approach to explore a perplexing phenomenon, namely that the vegetative growth period (flowering interval) in bamboos shows a geographic cline from tropical (short-interval) to temperate (long-interval) regions. With his colleagues, Yuuya examined the evolutionary stable flowering interval using a spatially explicit mathematical model to investigate how rhizome length, seed and pollen dispersal and inbreeding influence the evolution of the flowering interval. They found that rhizome length increased flowering interval, seed dispersal range decreased it, but less so at large range sizes, and inbreeding depression led to a longer flowering interval within aggregated genets. Their explanation for these findings proposed a balance between intragenet competition and kin competition among seeds. The Editors were impressed with the rigour of the study and the value of the findings that provide novel evolutionary insights into the reproductive strategy of clonal plants.
Yuuya Tachiki became interested in diverse reproductive behaviors in terrestrial plants whilst at graduate school. He studied mathematical models of the evolution of synchronized and highly variable reproduction (i.e. masting) at Kyushu University under the supervision of Prof. Yoh Iwasa. After completing his PhD, Yuuya became a post-doctoral fellow with Dr. Akiko Satake at Hokkaido University. He explored the role of plant-pathogen feedback to maintain the biodiversity and resist from the invasion of alien plant. He also studied the evolution of monocarpic clonal plants (e.g., bamboo), which resulted in his receipt of the Harper Prize 2015. Currently Yuuya is based Kyushu University as a post-doctoral research fellow and is continuing these projects.
Read the Virtual Issue bringing together the winning and highly commended papers from all the BES journals in 2015.
Winner of the Harper Prize 2014
The Editors are pleased to award the 2014 Harper Prize to Michiel Veldhuis for his paper A novel mechanism for grazing lawn formation: large herbivore-induced modification of the plant–soil water balance published with colleagues Ruth A. Howison, Rienk W. Fokkema, Elske Tielens, and Han Olff (Journal of Ecology, volume 102, issue 6, pp. 1506–1517).
Veldhuis’ study investigated the role of large herbivores (e.g. warthog, impala, plains zebra) in creating spatial heterogeneity through the creation of grazing lawns in tropical savanna. Grazing lawns are spatially distinct, intensively grazed areas of stoloniferous grasses often presented as an example of co-evolution between grazers and grazing tolerant grasses. Previous work has proposed that grazing lawns were initiated and maintained in these grasslands through a positive feedback between large grazing herbivores and nutrient-rich lawn grasses. By contrast, Veldhuis and colleagues propose that defoliation and soil compaction may initiate grazing lawns through a change in plant-soil water balance favouring drought-tolerant lawn species. Through careful investigation and measurement they found that grazing lawn soil properties and water balance, and possession of drought-tolerant traits in grazing lawn species (e.g. Digitaria longiflora, Urochloa mosambicensis, Dactyloctenium australe and Sporobolus nitens) were consistent with their hypothesis. Their proposed mechanism of grazing lawn formation is general enough for worldwide applicability, especially for grasslands during dry seasons.
Michiel P. Veldhuis completed his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in ecology and evolution at the University of Groningen, The Netherlands. During his Master’s he worked on two different research projects. The first explored the role of seed dispersing rodents (agoutis) in the creation/maintenance of tropical forest tree diversity. This involved tracking dispersing seeds at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute on Barro Colorado Island, Panama, under the supervision of Dr. Patrick Jansen and Dr. Roland Kays. The second project took Michiel to the South African savannas of Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park, which resulted in his receipt of the 2014 Harper Prize. As part of this project he studied herbivore effects on vegetation through changes in soil moisture.
In 2012 he started his PhD at the University of Groningen under the supervision of Prof. Han Olff and Prof. Matty Berg. Michiel is working on the importance of ecological autocatalysis for savanna ecosystem structure. Michiel’s main interests are understanding what factors drive the organization and functioning of ecosystems, focusing on the interplay between abiotic gradients and biotic feedback mechanisms to understand how they’ve shaped ecosystems to what we observe today.
Winner of the Harper Prize 2013
Dr. Nitin Sekar
The Editors have awarded the 2013 Harper Prize to Dr Nitin Sekar for his paper Waiting for Gajah: an elephant mutualist’s contingency plan for an endangered megafaunal disperser published with Raman Sukumar (Journal of Ecology, Volume 101, issue 6, pp. 1379-1388).
Dr Nitin Sekar’s paper has been chosen as this year’s Harper Prize winner as an excellent example of well conducted field ecology. With colleague Raman Sukumar, their study rigorously investigated the dispersal ecology of a megafaunal fruit, chalta tree (Dillenia indica), in the face of potential extinction of its principal disperser, the Asian elephant (Elephas maximus). Using a combination of focal tree watches, camera trapping, fruit aging trials, dung seed counts, and germination trials in an Indian tropical moist forest, Sekar and Sukumar were able to demonstrate that although elephants were observed to consume 63% of fruit removed from camera traps, D. indica has a risk-spreading dispersal strategy that will hopefully allow it to persist despite declining numbers of its primary megafaunal disperser.
Nitin Sekar is a doctoral student in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Princeton University. He is interested in the functional ecology of endangered species, the links between ecosystem services and poverty, and policy related to wildlife conservation and equitable development in the Global South. His dissertation aims to reveal whether Asian elephants (Elephas maximus) are functionally redundant as seed dispersers in a disturbed forest ecosystem in India. Nitin is also a candidate for an environmental policy certificate from the Woodrow Wilson School and Princeton Environmental Institute, where he researches the Indian government’s scheme to promote voluntary village relocation for tiger conservation.
Winner of the Harper Prize 2012
Dr. Simon Doxford
The Editors have awarded the 2012 Harper Prize to Dr. Simon Doxford for his paper Changes in the large-scale distribution of plants: extinction, colonisation and the effects of climate published with his supervisor Rob Freckleton.
The Journal of Ecology Editors were impressed with how Simon Doxford and his supervisor used novel statistical methods to analyse over six decades of records collected by members of the Botanical Society of the British Isles. They looked at how 1781 plant species distributions changed across the UK. Most plant species disperse slowly and the distribution of 45% of them are affected by climate, especially rainfall and temperature, but this is made more complicated by land use history patterns. Their study convincingly shows how historical distribution data, much of it collected by amateur botanists, can help understand current distribution patterns of plants with a view to predicting future changes.
As an undergraduate Simon studied Plant Sciences at the University of Sheffield (2004-2008) where he first began to become interested in plant ecology. During his final year project Simon began working on large-scale plant distribution data under the supervision of Professor Rob Freckleton.
Simon went on to complete his PhD at the University of Sheffield (2008-2011) where he continued work modelling spatial distribution change in plants examining rates of extinction and colonization over time and the role of habitat and climate in these changes. Simon’s PhD also focused onthe population dynamics of annual plants in sand dunes along spatial and temporal environmental gradients.This work involved establishing field experiments at sand dune sites in Europe where he examined fine scale community interaction, such as those between annual plants and bryophytes. Simon has also carried out greenhouse studies examining the effect of a temperature gradient on developmental timing and plant performance.
After his PhD Simon went on to take up a research assistant role (2011-2012) continuing research into sand dune annuals where he has published work on incorporating measures of population growth and temporal gradients into the existing concepts of the Stress Gradient Hypothesis. This work was carried out with Dr Mark Ooi and Professor Rob Freckleton.
Winner of the Harper Prize 2011
Dr. Ryan Phillips
The 2011 Harper Prize for the best article published in 2011 in Journal of Ecology by a scientist at the start of his or her career, has been awarded to Ryan Phillips of Kings Park and Botanic Garden, Perth, Western Australia, for his article “Do mycorrhizal symbioses cause rarity in orchids?”, published with Matthew Barrett, Kingsley Dixon and Steve Hopper.
Orchids are among nature’s most enigmatic terrestrial plants, especially in terms of their relationship with mycorrhizal symbiotic partners. In this fascinating study, Ryan Philips and his colleagues postulated that mycorrhizal specificity may contribute to rarity among members of the charismatic orchid genus Drakaea in Australia. However, by using a combination of in-situ baiting of seed with mycorrhizal fungi, ITS nrDNA sequencing of fungi isolated from adult plants, and in-vitro seed germination studies in the presence of fungal partners, Ryan was able to show that rarity among Drakaea species was more likely to be related to microhabitat, niche and pollination requirements than to mycorrhizal specificity. The Editors thought that the combination of field and laboratory work presented in this paper is an exemplary demonstration of the way in which a difficult ecological problem can be addressed experimentally.
During his undergraduate years Ryan developed an interest in the ecological and evolutionary mechanisms underlying diversification and endemism. Ryan undertook his PhD at The University of Western Australia under the supervision of Stephen Hopper and Kingsley Dixon. The paper selected for the Harper Prize was part of his thesis in which he investigated the role of specialized pollinator and mycorrhizal interactions in causing intrinsic rarity in a genus of sexually deceptive orchids. Currently, Ryan is a post-doctoral research fellow working jointly in the labs of Rod Peakall at Australian National University and Kingsley Dixon at Kings Park and Botanic Gardens. While continuing the ecological studies of orchids initiated during his PhD, Ryan is also undertaking research on speciation mechanisms and floral evolution in sexually deceptive orchids.
Winner of the Harper Prize 2010
Dr. Yann Hautier
The Harper Award for the best article by a scientist at the start of his or her career published in 2010 inJournal of Ecology is awarded to Yann Hautier from the University of Zurich for his article ‘Modelling the growth of parasitic plants’, published with Andy Hector, Eva Vojtech, Drew Purves and Lindsay Turnbull. This exciting work provides an excellent example of how modelling simple ideas, when combined with analysis of experimental data, can lead to new insights into phenomena which were previously thought to be well understood. Hemiparasitic plants are photosynthetically active, but rely on their hosts for water and nutrients. They can reach extraordinary densities in grasslands and play a key role in maintaining diversity, reducing the dominance of grasses and promoting forbs. It is commonly observed that the combined mass of hosts plus parasites is less than that of the host plants when grown alone, leading farmers to curse the parasite. This yield reduction has been attributed to some decrease in photosynthetic efficiency in the parasitized host or to reduced nitrogen-use efficiency by the parasite. In contrast to this view, Hautier and colleagues simply assume that the system productivity is determined only by the host’s growth, and that this, in turn, depends on host size. In their model, the parasite growth rate, therefore, depends solely on the host growth rate; the parasite simply extracts mass from the host and stores it inactively. This mass no longer contributes to growth; hence it inevitably leads to decreased total productivity as long as host growth is size-dependent. Hautier and his colleagues demonstrate experimentally that the basic premise of their model is correct, and then explore several important corollaries. First, when the parasite is rare (so that hosts are typically either uninfected or infected by a single parasite), parasites should be prudent because removing too much mass from their host will reduce their own future growth. Second, when hosts are infected by several parasites, a Tragedy of the Commons situation will occur, leading to over-exploitation of the hosts. This occurs because the prudent parasite would be outcompeted by a more aggressive parasite that takes a greater fraction of host mass. Leaving resources for your competitors is rarely a good idea.
Yann started studying grassland plant ecology during his master thesis at the University of Lausanne. With Antoine Guisan he was interested in the changes in reproductive investment with altitude in alpine plants. Yann then moved to the University of Zurich to accomplish his PhD studies with Professor Andy Hector. The paper selected for the Harper Prize 2010 is part of his PhD thesis entitled “Mechanisms of maintenance and restoration of plant diversity” for which he received a PhD thesis award from the University of Zurich. Currently Yann is a postdoctoral fellow with Professor Andy Hector and continues studying grassland community ecology.
Winner of the Harper Prize 2009
Dr. Nina Wurzburger
The 2009 Prize is awarded to Dr. Nina Wurzburger from Princeton University, Princeton, NJ, USA, for her article ‘Plant litter chemistry and mycorrhizal roots promote a nitrogen feedback in a temperate forest’ (Journal of Ecology – Volume 97, Issue 3, p 528-536), published with Ronald L. Hendrick.
The Editors selected this really interesting and innovative article because it is one of the few that consider, via a field study, how feedbacks between plant species and soil organisms influence nutrient availability to plants.
Nina first became interested in plant–soil relationships and root symbioses at the University of California, Davis, USA, where she worked with Dr. Caroline Bledsoe in forests of northern California as an undergraduate and an M.S. student. She then earned a Ph.D. from the University of Georgia with Dr. Ronald Hendrick and published this paper from the work she carried out in the southern Appalachians as part of her PhD studies. Currently, Nina is a postdoctoral fellow in Dr. Lars Hedin’s laboratory at Princeton University and collaborates with Drs. Joe Wright and Ben Turner at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. She is exploring the limitation of soil nutrients in the diverse lowland tropical forests of Panama.
Winner of the Harper Prize 2008
Dr. Lucia Vivanco
The 2008 Prize is awarded to Dr. Lucía Vivanco from the University of Buenos Aires, Argentina (now at the University of California at Irvine, USA) for her article ‘Tree species identity alters litter decomposition through long-term plant and soil interactions in a natural forest ecosystem in Patagonia’ (Journal of Ecology – Volume 96, Issue 4, p 727–736), published with Amy Austin.
The Editors selected this article because of its elegant experimental approach, but also for the importance of its findings with respect to understanding how long-term plant–soil feedbacks regulate decomposition processes and forest dynamics at the ecosystem scale.
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