Jennifer H. Fewell

Jennifer H. Fewell

Fellow: Awarded 2009

Field of Study: Organismic Biology & Ecology

Competition: US & Canada


Jennifer H. Fewell is a Professor in the School of Life Sciences and cofounder and codirector of the Center for Social Dynamics and Complexity at Arizona State University. She received her B.A. in neurobiology and behavior from Cornell University (1979) and an M.S. (1985) and Ph.D. (1988) in organismal ecology and evolution from the University of Colorado. After a three-year NSF environmental biology postdoctoral Fellowship at Simon Fraser University, where she worked in the lab of Mark Winston studying the regulation of pollen foraging in honey bees, she joined the faculty of ASU in 1991. Since then, she has been continuously funded as the Principal Investigator on projects supported by the NSF, NIH, and USDA.

Ms. Fewell’s empirical studies of the division of labor among harvester ants and bees are well regarded, and she has had her findings published in such top-flight refereed journals as Science, Behavioral Ecology, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology. Among her many significant articles are “The emergence of division of labor in forced associations of ant foundresses,” which was written with R. E. Page Jr. and published in Evolutionary Ecology Research, 1 (1999),  and “Normalized Mutual Entropy in Biology: Quantifying Division of Labor” (written with Root Gorelick et al.), which appeared in The American Naturalist (2004).

In addition to her research work, she is also a highly regarded teacher and student mentor. Of the more than thirty undergraduates she has supervised in her lab, about two-thirds have gone on to graduate studies. Perhaps her greatest success in this regard is her directorship of ASU’s Minority Access to Research Careers (MARC) program, which has an almost 100 percent retention and graduation rate; approximately 70 percent of the students in the program go on to graduate school. In recognition of her superlative efforts in guiding the MARC program, ASU honored her with its Center for Intergroup Relations’ Patricia Gurin Scholar-Activist Award, and with its Commission on the Status of Women’s Outstanding Achievement and Contribution Award.

Ms. Fewell is a member of the Animal Behavior Society, for which she was Senior Program Officer and member of the executive committee; the International Society for Behavioral Ecology; and the International Union for the Study of Social Insects. She was elected President of the North American Section of the IUSSI in 1999.

In some ways a response to Edward O. Wilson’s Sociobiology: A New Synthesis (1975), the research Ms. Fewell will continue to pursue as a Guggenheim Fellow will test whether social dynamics and cohesive group structures can emerge spontaneously, rather than only as evolutionary expressions of selective advantages. Her approach will, characteristically, involve a wide range of disciplines, ranging from her own specialty of social insect biology, to complexity science, and philosophy. She will be spending part of her Fellowship term in collaborative studies with the noted philosopher of science Sandra Mitchell at the University of Pittsburgh.