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.
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.
- » Find out more about the Guppy Project, view videos and images from Trinidad, and learn about the researchers and science behind the project.
- » Read a recent journal article that Dr. Travis co-authored entitled “Local adaptation in Trinidadian guppies alters ecosystem processes.”
» The Sixth Extinction
Niles Eldredge, Paleontologist and Curator-in-Chief of the “Hall of Biodiversity” at the American Museum of Natural History, discusses the current biodiversity crisis and the factors that contribute to continued biodiversity losses.
» Speciation and Biodiversity
In an ActionBioScience original interview, legendary entomologist and “Dean of Biodiversity,” E.O. Wilson discusses how new species are formed and the future of speciation on our current global trajectory of population and development.
Join people around the world by participating in Project Noah (Networked Organisms and Habitats). This social marketing project, now available as an app, lets contributors upload photos and details about sightings, or “spottings,” of wildlife. Earn patches and join various missions to learn more about ongoing scientific projects.
Professional Biological Societies
Detective Work in the West Indies: Integrating Historical and Experimental Approaches to Study Island Lizard Evolution
Jonathan B. Losos, in the Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University, explains why understanding evolution requires pursuing information through multiple lines of inquiry. (July/August 2007)
Biodiversity in the next millenium
The American Museum of Natural History released the results of its nationwide survey (undated) that reveal a “biodiversity crisis - the fastest mass extinction in Earth’s history.”
Learn more about guppies, including their physical characteristics and natural history.