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Dr. Joseph Travis Honored with E.O. Wilson Naturalist Award

Joseph Travis


ActionBioScience interviewed Dr. Travis to learn his thoughts about progress in the field of natural history and needs for the future:

  • Natural history informs research currently found in scientific papers and journals;

  • Students interested in pursuing a career in natural history should take field courses to gain valuable experience;

  • Students should also familiarize themselves with newer biological and statistical techniques not ordinarily considered to be part of natural history.

August 2011

On your receipt of the E.O. Wilson Naturalist Award in June you commented that E.O. Wilson has always encouraged you to stay the course as a real naturalist. What defines a real naturalist in your view?

Real naturalists use their knowledge of nature as a guide to raising and answering questions about what they see.

Travis: In my view a real naturalist is someone who has studied nature, pays close attention to nature in his or her work, and uses that knowledge of nature as a guide to identifying and answering interesting questions. For example, a real naturalist is someone who understands the role of different kinds of soil on plant distribution, and that you can actually see this for yourself by walking around and looking at where certain plants grow. A real naturalist is someone who notices clear patterns in the association of certain insects with certain plants, or that you can learn to identify plants from the structures of their flowers. A real naturalist is someone who feels at home wandering around in the woods, or in the marsh or grasslands just watching—watching birds forage, watching insect flight patterns, watching patterns of phenology in plants over time. A real naturalist is someone who is really engaged with the processes and observations of nature and who notices things and raises questions about what they see.

Source: Florida State University.

You studied biology as an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania. What prompted you to choose biology as a major?

Travis: The honest answer is that it seemed like fun! I started college without much inclination as to what I wanted to study. I began my freshman year thinking maybe I’d major in English because I liked reading novels and plays and I liked to write, or maybe I’d major in history because I liked to read about history, or maybe I’d major in something in science because it seemed like a lot of fun. In my very first semester I took a course from Bob Ricklefs called Biology 101: Introduction to Environmental Biology. At that time, the University of Pennsylvania Biology Department had a four-semester introductory sequence in place of the typical Bio I and Bio II two-semester sequence. The first semester was environmental—which meant that it encompassed ecology, evolution and behavior, the second was organismal, the third was molecular and cell, and the fourth was developmental. So I took the course because ecology and evolution seemed like an interesting topic and biology was my favorite science course that I took in high school. By the end of that semester I was all but hooked; it was a great, great course. I just enjoyed every minute of it; I enjoyed the way Bob taught you to think about science and biology, and from that point on I was a biology major.

Joseph Travis, Ph.D. received his B.A. in Biology from the University of Pennsylvania in 1975 and his Ph.D. in Zoology from Duke University in 1980. That same year he began his professional career as an Assistant Professor at Florida State University, where he eventually rose to the position of Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. Dr. Travis has served on numerous advisory panels and boards, including the Advisory Council for the Biological Sciences Directorate at the National Science Foundation. He is a Fellow of the American Academy for the Advancement of Sciences (1991) and was President of the American Society of Naturalists (2005) and the American Institute of Biological Sciences (2010). His research focuses on the ecology of natural selection, including the effects of density-dependent selection on population regulation. This year, Dr. Joseph Travis was awarded the E.O. Wilson Naturalist Award from the American Society of Naturalists, which recognizes the contributions of mid-career scientists toward advancing the understanding of a particular ecosystem or group of organisms.

Dr. Joseph Travis Honored with E.O. Wilson Naturalist Award


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More from Dr. Travis

  • » Learn more about Dr. Travis, his research, and teaching interests by visiting his homepage at Florida State University.
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  • » Read a recent journal article that Dr. Travis co-authored entitled “Local adaptation in Trinidadian guppies alters ecosystem processes.”

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