Prestigious awards honour the stars of conservation science


ZSL's Scientific Award Winners Announced

ZSL recognises outstanding achievment in zoology and conservation science through an annual programme of awards.  This year's winners are celebrated below.


ZSL Charles Darwin Award and Marsh Prize

The ZSL Charles Darwin Award and Marsh Prize is awarded for the best undergraduate project submitted by a university in the UK.  This year’s award is presented to Will Smith, University of Oxford, for his project Are wild rock doves in the British Isles distinct from feral domestic pigeons? A phenotypic and genetic analysis.  Will Smith winner of ZSL's Darwin Award and Marsh Prize

Will’s project is outstanding in every respect. It tackles an original question – whether rock dove populations are still distinct from their feral pigeon descendants despite likely genetic introgression – and it does this using an extremely impressive range of approaches and tools. The work involved citizen science, assembled entirely and independently by Will, to obtain morphological data from both rock dove and feral pigeons across the UK. Will shows an impressive command of techniques ranging from PCA, phylogenetic analysis and genomics to show that rock doves and feral pigeons are distinct both morphologically and genetically, and that populations of rock doves with little introgression of feral pigeon genes persist despite their relative rarity. The report is beautifully written and is of publishable quality in terms of the rigour and originality of the work it contains.  It is a pleasure to acknowledge Will’s outstanding achievement with this award.


ZSL Thomas Henry Huxley Award and Marsh Prize

The ZSL Thomas Henry Huxley Award and Marsh Prize is awarded for the best PhD thesis submitted by a university in the UK.  This year’s award is presented to Patrick Kennedy, University of Bristol, for his thesis Uncertainty and the evolution of altruism: theory and fieldwork in the paper wasps of Central and South America. 

Patrick Kennedy winner of the ZSL Huxley Award and Marsh PrizePatrick’s thesis considers two major, little-understood topics of biological relevance: how unpredictability in environmental conditions can impact the evolution of altruism (costly helping of others) and why some individuals in social wasp populations drift between nests (helping at colonies other than their own). The first of these questions is tackled using analytical modelling and evolutionary simulations, complex methods that Patrick learnt from scratch by seeking collaborations outside of his supervisory team. Answering the second question involved arduous fieldwork (in various Central and South American countries), experimental manipulations and sophisticated statistical analyses. The thesis contains several genuinely original ideas, and it excels in quantity and quality.  Patrick drove the direction of the research, suggesting innovative, insightful and ambitious ideas, devising carefully thought-out and often novel experimental and analytical plans to test them, and generating practical solutions to logistical challenges. Patrick is deservedly an outstanding candidate for the Thomas Henry Huxley Award and Marsh Prize.


ZSL Scientific Medal

The ZSL Scientific Medal is awarded for outstanding contributions by an early career researcher.  Three medals can be awarded annually.

David Edwards, University of Sheffield

David Edwards ZSL Scientific Medal winnerDavid is a Professor of Conservation Science in the Department of Animal & Plant Sciences at the University of Sheffield. He leads projects that have advanced our understanding of the environmental and economic value of degraded landscapes across the tropics, of how that value can be enhanced, and how these activities interact with policy, including the Payments for Ecosystem Services and Forest and Landscape Restoration agendas. David leads large-scale tropical field projects.  His teams currently work in six countries spanning Africa, South America and South and Southeast Asia, and he has established a global network of excellent collaborations with world-leading scientists. This has resulted both in many high-profile articles, including several in Science, Nature Climate Change and Current Biology, and significant policy impact. David’s research achievements in the field of conservation biology are truly outstanding and of the highest international standard.  He is a truly deserving recipient of the Society’s Scientific Medal.


Emily Rayfield, University of Bristol

Emily Rayfield ZSL Scientific Medal winnerEmily is one of the world’s leading biomechanists and palaeobiologists and has made an extraordinarily impressive series of ground-breaking and novel contributions to the subject, many of which are acknowledged as benchmarks in the field.  Emily’s expertise encompasses work on extinct and extant organisms, dealing with taxa as diverse as coralline algae, conodonts and dinosaurs, and she has been at the cutting edge of developing and applying new analytical approaches to palaeobiological problems, all with great success. Emily pioneered the use of Finite Element (FE) models, a technique that is now applied in many other labs worldwide as a direct result.  In addition to her outstanding academic work, Emily is a passionate and exemplary member of the palaeontological and biomechanical community within the UK and overseas, helping to mould and shape the future of the subject and to direct its goals. This has been reflected in her appointment to major scientific citizenship roles including the Vice-Presidency of the Palaeontological Association and the Presidency of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology.  We are delighted to present Emily with the Society’s Scientific Medal.


Martin Stevens, University of Exeter

Martin Stevens ZSL Scientific Medal winnerMartin is a vision specialist whose research focuses on how vision guides behaviour. He works across scales and applies a broad range of techniques to the problems he addresses. He is one of the outstanding biologists of his generation, which can be seen by the speed with which he rose from student to Professor and by the excellent, high-quality body of work that he has already produced. This includes two single authored books, one edited book and over 135 scientific papers. This is a phenomenal body of work. Martin’s research aims to couch biological explanations of animal coloration, be it camouflage or conspicuous signals such as the warning coloration of toxic insects, in formal mechanistic terms of how the colours are perceived. This requires modelling visual systems with different colour and pattern processing mechanisms from our own, and predicting, and testing, the evolutionary implications for the patterns in terms of how they affect predation risk.  Martin is also strongly committed to education and he is a key player in regional outreach, with an emphasis on engagement with high school students.  It is a pleasure to award Martin the ZSL Scientific Medal.


ZSL Frink Award for Outstanding Contributions to Zoology

Christl Donnelly ZSL Frink Award winnerThe is ZSL’s premier scientific award, and this year it is presented to Christl Donnelly, Imperial College London. Christl is a statistician and epidemiologist studying the spread and control of infectious diseases. Her research aims to improve our understanding of the effect of interventions on infectious agent transmission dynamics and population structure in order to make control strategies as effective as they can be.  Christl has studied Zika virus, Ebola, MERS, influenza, SARS, bovine TB, foot‐and‐mouth disease, rabies, cholera, dengue, BSE/vCJD, malaria and HIV/AIDS.  She is a leading member of the WHO Ebola Response Team and she was deputy chair of the Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB (1998‐2007) which designed, oversaw and analysed the Randomised Badger Culling Trial.  Christl’s research interests also span conservation, ecology and animal welfare and she is a long-term collaborator of research at ZSL, primarily focusing on research on badgers and Bovine TB.  Christl was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 2016.  In addition to providing science-based policy advice, Christl is committed to advancing the public understanding of epidemiology and statistics, so that conclusions from important research are accessible to wide audiences.  It is our great pleasure to award Christl with the ZSL Frink Award.


ZSL Marsh Award for Conservation Biology

Mike Bruford winner of the ZSL Marsh Award for Conservation Biology

The ZSL Marsh Award for Conservation Biology is awarded for fundamental science that has significant impact on conservation biology.  This year, it is awarded to Mike Bruford, University of Cardiff. Mike is a pioneer in the field of conservation genetics.  His skillset has equipped him to tackle a diversity of problems in a wide range of taxa, and he has published an impressively large number of papers, with a high proportion of those in the top journals.  Mike has led studies on the evolution of domestication and the conservation of the associated genetic variation, the population structure and demography of wild primate populations, identifying units of conservation and using genetic methods to reveal mating systems.  In recent years he has been involved in several genome sequencing projects and he is an advocate for using wholegenomic data to make important inferences about population demography and to conserve adaptive potential.  At the national level Mike has led on the CryoArks project and raised an initial £1m from BBSRC, to enable the UK research community to curate and biobank thousands of irreplaceable tissue samples of potential conservation significance.  Mike is highly collegial and public spirited; he has mentored dozens of scientists from around the globe, including over 50 as PhD students.  It is a pleasure to award Mike with the ZSL Marsh Award for Conservation Biology.


ZSL Marsh Award for Marine and Freshwater Conservation

David Sims winner of the ZSL Marsh Award for Marine and Freshwater ConservationThe ZSL Marsh Award for Marine and Freshwater Conservation is awarded for fundamental research which has had significant impact on marine and freshwater conservation.  This year’s award is presented to David Sims, Marine Biological Association, Plymouth, and the University of Southampton.  David is a leading marine biologist who has undertaken pioneering research on the behaviour, movements and ecology of threatened sharks that has contributed to worldwide conservation outcomes. David’s impact in marine conservation has been to lead the way in using new tracking technologies and analysis approaches to reveal shark movements, behaviour patterns and distributions in relation to environmental changes and anthropogenic threats, and to use these results to improve conservation of sharks by contributing directly to successful proposals for global protection. He is also the founder of an international collaborative project that has mapped the global hotspots of pelagic sharks and quantified how exploited they are. David’s work has been in the forefront of identifying essential habitat for sharks that is a prime target for spatial conservation measures. David has also made significant contributions to understanding of climate change impacts on fish and shark populations. We are delighted to present David with this award in recognition of these outstanding achievements.


ZSL Clarivate Award for Communicating Zoology

Dave Goulson winner of the Clarivate Award for Communicating ZoologyThe Clarivate Award for Communicating Zoology is presented to an author or film maker for work that has impact on a wide audience.  This year the award is presented to Dave Goulson, University of Sussex, for his exquisite book The Garden Jungle.  In this book, Dave describes the incredible diversity of species that inhabit our gardens, as well as the ways that gardeners can – often by doing the simplest things – improve gardens to benefit wildlife.  Dave invites us to see our gardens differently, not as pristine and well-tended spaces, but as rich habitats that provide us with an opportunity to connect with, and be fascinated by, nature that is literally on our doorstep.  The Garden Jungle is a guidebook on how small changes can have a big impact on the planet and a timely reminder that, by making good choices, anyone fortunate enough to have a garden can make an active contribution to wildlife conservation. 

We are grateful to our sponsors, the Marsh Christian Trust and Clarivate, for their generous support of ZSL’s awards programme.


Learn more about ZSL's awards

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