Evolutionary biologist John Thompson awarded Darwin-Wallace Medal

Named for Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace, the prestigious award recognizes major advances in evolutionary biology

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John Thompson received the Darwin-Wallace Medal from Linnean Society president Paul Brakefield at a ceremony in London. (Credit © The Linnean Society of London)

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John Thompson

John Thompson, the Jean H. Langenheim Professor of Plant Ecology and Evolution at UC Santa Cruz, has been honored by the Linnean Society of London with the Darwin-Wallace Medal, one of the top international prizes in evolutionary biology.

Thompson is known for his research on the coevolution of interacting species and how the process of coevolution shapes the organization of Earth's biodiversity. He has written several highly influential books on evolution and has helped shape the current understanding of evolutionary processes.

"John's work has fundamentally shaped the way people think about evolution and how it plays out in our every day lives," said Ingrid Parker, professor and chair of ecology and evolutionary biology at UC Santa Cruz. "It's great to see him recognized among the very elite group of scientists who have received this award."

The Darwin-Wallace Medal, given for major advances in evolutionary biology, was first awarded in 1908 (to Wallace himself and six others), then every 50 years until 2010, when the Linnean Society began awarding it annually. Thompson received the medal in a May 24 ceremony in London.

In a citation read at the award ceremony, Thompson was recognized for putting coevolution "on the map". The citation noted that through his work "over several decades on insect-plant interactions, and more recently with experimental evolution in microbes, [Thompson] has achieved more in understanding pattern and process in coevolutionary interactions among organisms than anyone else."

Thompson is the author of four books exploring the processes that drive evolution and shape the interconnected web of life on Earth. The most recent, Relentless Evolution (2013), examines the pace and dynamics of evolutionary change and the ecological drivers of ongoing adaptive change in species and populations.

Thompson is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the Royal Entomological Society of London, and a past president of the American Society of Naturalists. In 2008, he received the Per Brinck Oikos Award for Extraordinary Contributions to the Science of Ecology. He joined the UCSC faculty in 2000.

The Darwin-Wallace Medal was originally awarded in 1908 to commemorate the anniversary of the reading of a joint paper by Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace at a meeting of the Linnean Society on July 1, 1858. The paper, "On the Tendency of Species to form Varieties; and the Perpetuation of Varieties and Species by Natural Means of Selection," introduced the idea of evolution through natural selection.

Founded in 1788, the Linnean Society of London is named for Swedish scientist Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778). It is the world’s oldest active organization devoted exclusively to natural history.