Levine receives prestigious Robert MacArthur ecological research award

Liz Fuller-Wright ・ The Office of Communications

Jonathan Levine, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology (EEB) and an associated faculty member in the Princeton Environmental Institute (PEI), is the 2020 recipient of the Ecological Society of America’s Robert H. MacArthur Award, the most prestigious mid-career accolade from the world’s largest professional organization of ecologists, representing more than 9,000 scientists around the world.

Levine’s research group focuses on the maintenance of species diversity and individual mechanisms of species coexistence. He is the 20th winner of the MacArthur Award, which was established in 1983 in memory of the pioneer theoretical ecologist Robert MacArthur, who spent his most productive years at Princeton.

“Winning the Robert MacArthur award is incredibly humbling considering the immense contributions of the award’s namesake, along with those of prior recipients of the award at Princeton and elsewhere,” said Levine, who also is a principal investigator and on the leadership team of the Carbon Mitigation Initiative administered by PEI. “Moving forward, I am excited by the challenge of dreaming up projects worthy of this honor.”

“MacArthur, along with Henry Horn, established Princeton as the leading center in the world for theoretical ecology linked closely to empirical work,” said Lars Hedin, EEB chair and the George M. Moffett Professor of Biology. “It is therefore especially fitting to have this year’s award bestowed upon one of our own faculty members.”

In its award announcement, the Ecological Society of America noted the research links between the award’s namesake and its latest recipient: “Following the legacy of Robert MacArthur, Levine is a master at revealing simple mechanisms underlying complex patterns. A hallmark of his work is highly controlled experiments that make it possible to link theory and data, thereby exposing the fundamental processes regulating complicated systems. His work has given both inspiration and guidance to the field of ecology. He has also served the field by training a new generation of ecologists, whose collective successes have been remarkable.”

Levine will receive the award in early August at this year’s Ecological Society of America meeting, which will be held either partially or entirely online, and he will deliver his award lecture at next year’s annual meeting. A paper based on his lecture will appear in the journal Ecology.

Levine is the fourth current or former faculty member from EEB to have received the honor, joining 1984 recipient Robert May, the former Class of 1977 Professor of Zoology; 1988 recipient Simon Levin, the James S. McDonnell Distinguished University Professor in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and founding director of PEI; and 2010 recipient Stephen Pacala, the Frederick D. Petrie Professor in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and past director of PEI.