David N. Reznick
Fellow: Awarded 2016
Field of Study: Organismic Biology & Ecology
Competition: US & Canada
One of David Reznick’s early goals as a scientist was to test predictions of evolutionary theory with experiments performed on natural populations. He wanted to work in nature to test the consequences of natural phenomena and understand how evolution happens in the real world, rather than in the laboratory, where all prior experimental studies of evolution had taken place. A common response to the proposed experimental study in nature was that it was a good idea, but people wondered if he would live long enough to see results. The popular perception of evolution was that it, in Charles Darwin’s words, was a process so slow that “we see nothing of these slow changes in progress, until the hand of time has marked the long lapses of ages”. Reznick succeeded in testing the predictions of theory and, at the same time, proved that evolution is a rapid process, observable and quantifiable in real time. Such results have changed our perception of evolution. Where we once thought that evolution could only be studied as a historical process that leaves an imprint on living organisms, we now think of evolution as a contemporary process that can actively shape organisms and how they interact with one another. Reznick is now studying the consequences of evolution as a contemporary process. One such consequence is how it affects ecology. The traditional approach to the study of ecological interactions, such as predation, disease, parasitism, competition or coexistence, is to treat organisms as constants. Being constant assumes that organisms do not evolve, but what is really assumed is that evolution is so slow that it does not affect ecological interactions. Treating evolution and ecology as contemporaneous processes changes the predicted outcomes of ecological interactions and promises to improve ecology as a predictive science. Treating evolution as a contemporary process has wide applicability to other fields and makes a significant difference wherever it has been included. Some examples include fisheries management, conservation biology, or agricultural pest management.
Reznick has been a professor at the University of California, Riverside since 1984, where he teaches general biology, comparative anatomy, and evolutionary biology. He has mentored dozens of doctoral and post-doctoral scholars and hundreds of undergraduates. He has been honored as the Faculty Research Lecturer and Distinguished Professor at UCR, received the E. O. Wilson Naturalist award from the American Society of Naturalists and is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He has published over 150 research articles and a book entitled “The Origin Then and Now – An Interpretive Guide to the Origin of Species”. His publications have been cited more than 15,000 times. He has given hundreds of invited lectures to universities and professional societies and his research has been continuously supported by the National Science Foundation since 1978. You can learn more about his current research and view videos of the tropical setting of his research in the Northern Range Mountains of Trinidad at his website.