Assistant professor of biology receives 2011 Mercer Award

Tracy Langkilde, an assistant professor of biology at Penn State, has been awarded a 2011 Mercer Award from the Ecological Society of America for her outstanding accomplishments in ecological research. Langkilde's work incorporates aspects of population, community, behavioral, and evolutionary ecology. She studies the processes that determine how individual species interact with one another and with their environments, and how responses to environmental changes can shape biological communities. The society is honoring her, in particular, for her 2009 paper titled "Invasive fire ants alter behavior and morphology of native lizards," which was published in the journal Ecology. The society's meeting and award presentation, which has the theme "Earth Stewardship: Preserving and enhancing the Earth's life-support systems," will be held in August.

Since arriving at Penn State in 2007, Langkilde has focused on invasive species as a model to assess the role of adaptation in promoting coexistence of species within communities. She recently discovered that native fence lizards in the southern region of the United States rapidly acquired novel behavioral strategies and altered morphologies to avoid lethal attack by invasive fire ants.

Currently, Langkilde is working on two related projects funded by the National Science Foundation. The first project uses ecological and evolutionary approaches to examine the mechanisms driving the development of adaptive defensive behavior. This project also sheds light on the role of evolutionary processes in the assembly and dynamics of natural communities. The second project employs ecological and biomedical measures of animal health to examine the impact of globally-important invasive fire ants on native lizards and to assess how time since invasion may impact lizards' threat tolerance. Langkilde's work will help to develop a better understanding of how native populations are able to persist in the face of increasing environmental change. The work also will provide important information needed to guide the conservation of global biodiversity.

In 2006, Langkilde was awarded grants from the National Geographic Society's Committee for Research and Exploration, the Eppley Foundation for Research, and the American Museum of Natural History. In that same year, she received the Jabez King Memorial Prize for the most meritorious doctoral thesis at the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Sydney. In 2005 and 2006, she was awarded a Gaylord Donnelley Environmental Postdoctoral Fellowship in Forestry and Environmental Studies from Yale University. In 2005, she received a New South Wales Young Tall Poppy Science Award from the Australian Institute of Political Sciences, a Postgraduate Excellence Prize from the University of Sydney, and a Peter Rawlinson Prize for Postgraduate Research from the Joint Meeting of the Australian Society of Herpetologists, the Society for Research on Amphibians and Reptiles in New Zealand, and the Fijian Society of Herpetologists. Langkilde's research has received much media attention, appearing online, in print, and on public radio through over 100 outlets, including Science magazine, Discovery Channel, MSNBC, and National Geographic's website.

Langkilde has authored or co-authored more than 40 scientific papers in peer-reviewed journals and served as a peer reviewer of more than 90 papers for 39 journals including American Naturalist, Animal Behaviour, Ecology, Ecology Letters, Molecular Ecology, and Physiology and Behavior.

Langkilde earned a doctoral degree in biology in 2005 at the University of Sydney and was awarded first-class honors while earning her bachelor's degree in biology at James Cook University in Australia in 1999.

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Last Updated July 06, 2011