Recognizing Some Contemporary Naturalists

This morning, I mentioned via Twitter that UCLA is hosting a public conference as part of the Wallace Centenary Celebration (WCC) commemorating the 100th anniversary of the esteemed naturalist’s death.

The conference is scheduled to feature a number of highly-accomplished speakers but, as pointed out by Jeremy Yoder in his recent blog post, “Celebrating Alfred Russel Wallace with … a symposium of only straight white men?“, there is a conspicuous lack of women contributors in the lineup.  

In fact, there are only two currently scheduled and it appears that they may have been added by the University in response to Yoder’s article and a letter organized by Elizabeth Long, a biologist at UCLA and the Natural History Museum of Los Angles County.

After reading the Elizabeth’s letter and Jeremy’s post, I was a bit ashamed that I really couldn’t name many female naturalists even though I know that women have played (and continue to play) a substantial role in the natural sciences.  

So, using Elizabeth Long’s letter as a reference, I set out learning about some of the extraordinary women in this field.  Below you’ll find a small fraction of those outstanding contemporary female naturalists that you may never have heard of but who are contributing greatly to our understanding of the natural world. If you are planning a naturalist-oriented conference soon, take notes :-).

This list is not in any particular order and it is not, by any measure, a complete list.  I welcome any additions you feel merit inclusion.  Simply get in touch!

Rosemary Gillespie – Based at UC Berkeley, Rosemary currently serves as the Schlinger Chair of Systematics and Director of the Essig Museum of Entomology in addition to her duties as a Professor. She is also the President of the International Biogeographical Society and is a Past-President of the American Arachnological Society. Leading a team of undergraduate, grad students, professional research scientists, and post-docs, Rosemary is a champion of terrestrial arthropod ecology, biodiversity, and conservation.

Helen F. James – Helen is a paleontologist and paleornithologist whose work spans Conservation Paleobiology, Evolution and Systematics, and Evolutionary Ecology; mostly in the context of island bird populations. In addition to serving on the executive council of the Society of Avian Paleontology and Evolution and on the council of the American Institute of Biological Sciences, Helen is currently the Curator in Charge of Birds at the renowned Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.

Danielle Lee – When not taking to the Twittersphere as “Biologist & Hip-Hop Maven” @DNLee5, Danielle is a frequent contributor to the Scientific American Blog Network. Though she is a champion of science outreach and science communication aimed at general audiences, she is also an accomplished researcher. Her current work combines Psychology, Ethology, and Behavioral Ecology to investigate proximate and ultimate causes of animal behavior through the lens of natural history.

Sandra Knapp – As indicated by her long list of honors, awards, and appointments, Sandra is a natural history powerhouse. An accomplished botanist, Sandra works as a Merit Researcher and Head of the Plants Division at the Natural History Museum – London where she is an authority on tropical botany. In addition to her work at the museum, Sandra is an active member of organizations like Fauna and Flora International, the Linnean Society of London, and is Vice President of the International Association for Plant Taxonomy…just to name a few.

Hopi Hoesksra – The Hoekstra lab at Harvard University currently investigates the genetic basis of adaptation in the context of rodent populations while using natural history collections to study temporal changes in morphological variation (kudos for the collections-based research component). Working at Harvard where she is the Alexander Agassiz Professor of Zoology in the Department of Organismic & Evolutionary Biology and the Department of Molecular & Cellular Biology, Hopi is an expert on the genetic foundations that underly adaption and speciation. When she isn’t researching or teaching, she is likely to be found hard at work as the Curator of Mammals at the Museum of Comparative Zoology.

Mary Jane West-Eberhard – I might as well just refer to West-Eberhard as a “living legend”. A Staff Scientist Emerita at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, her early work on social wasps blossomed into greater considerations of why certain organisms live in societies and the roles that phenotypic and developmental plasticity play in evolution. A prolific author and researcher, West-Eberhard is a member of numerous scientific academies and societies and is a Sewall Wright Award winner (2003).

Marlene Zuk – From her current post at the University of Minnesota, Marlene’s research spans sexual selection and mate choice, animal communication, effects of parasites on host ecology/evolution/behavior, and conflicts between natural and sexual selection. She is an avid author, lecturer, and professional researcher in addition to being a fervent champion for women in science.

Catherine Graham – From her position as the Director of the Department of Ecology and Evolution at Stony Brook, Catherine Graham attempts to reconcile the disconnect between landscape and behavioral ecologists; with an emphasis on how human-altered landscapes affect ecological processes. Her list of publications and grants appears to never end and her long record of speaking invitations and keynote lectures around the globe is a testament to the esteemed position she holds among her peers.

Cover Photo: Photograph of Hopi Hoekstra (Source)

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