Alumna Laura Russo receives Robert May Prize from the British Ecological Society

Gail McCormick
May 02, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Eberly College of Science alumna Laura Russo has been selected to receive the Robert May Prize from the British Ecological Society, the oldest ecological society in the world. The prize recognizes the best paper by an early career researcher in the society’s scientific journal Methods in Ecology and Evolution. The award is named after Lord May from the University of Oxford.

“Dr. Russo did this exciting research as part of her Ph.D. thesis,” said Katriona Shea, professor of biology and Alumni Professor in the Biological Sciences at Penn State. “I am so delighted her work has been recognized with this prestigious honor.”

Russo, who was a member of the biology department, completed her doctoral degree in ecology in 2013. She was the first author on the prize-winning paper, titled “Quantitative evolutionary patterns in bipartite networks: Vicariance, phylogenetic tracking or diffuse co-evolution?” The paper describes work, led by Russo, to develop a new framework that investigates evolutionary processes across large communities of interacting species, using plant-pollinator interactions as a case study.

“Plant-pollinator interactions are typically thought of as the textbook example of coevolution, with the interaction of a single plant species and a single pollinator species driving the evolution of their traits,” said Russo. “But in reality, plants are visited by many different pollinator species, and pollinating insects visit many different plant hosts. The framework that we developed, with the help of a team of coauthors, peer reviewers, anonymous reviewers, and journal editors, allows us to understand the evolutionary processes among many species of interacting plants and pollinators.”

In addition to Russo and Shea, the research team at Penn State also includes Adam Miller, postdoctoral researcher in biology at the time of the research; John Tooker, associate professor of entomology; and Ottar Bjornstad, distinguished professor of entomology and biology and J. Lloyd & Dorothy Foehr Huck Chair of Epidemiology.

After graduating from Penn State in 2013, Russo was a postdoctoral researcher at Cornell University from 2013 to 2015, Penn State from 2015 to 2017, and Trinity College, Dublin, from 2017 to 2019. Russo is currently an assistant professor of entomology and plant pathology at the University of Tennessee, Institute of Agriculture.

Last Updated May 02, 2019