UA Ecologist Awarded Packard Fellowship of $625,000

Nov. 7, 2005
Alexander Badyaev
Alexander Badyaev

Alexander Badyaev, an assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at The University of Arizona in Tucson, is one of 16 national recipients of the 2005 Packard Fellowship for Science and Engineering. The fellowships from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation provide research grants of $625,000 over five years to promising young scientists and engineers who have a reputation for doing innovative research.

"It is a great honor for me to receive this award. I am very grateful to the foundation and to people who nominated me. It is also a great recognition of the importance of evolutionary biology in resolving some of the most outstanding research questions in biological diversity," Badyaev said.

Badyaev, an accomplished evolutionary biologist whose prior recognitions include the Dobzhansky Prize of the Society for the Study of Evolution and the John Maynard Smith Award of the European Society of Evolutionary Biology, has a life-long interest in birds.

"Birds have a fascinating diversity of colors," he said. "People have been studying color in birds for a long time, but what is not known is how diversity in color patterns is generated. There is no unifying theory for why color distributed differently across plumage of different species – for example why a cardinal is covered in red and the house finch has red on only some body parts."

Badyaev will use his Packard Fellowship to investigate the evolution and development of color displays in animals, using birds as the model system. "Few animal taxa rival birds in the diversity of color displays, and few groups of traits have stimulated more studies of natural and sexual selection than animal coloration," he wrote in his proposal to the Packard Foundation. "Yet we know exceptionally little about how this diversity is generated and how it evolved."

To figure out how and why bird species are so differently colored, Badyaev will combine approaches from biochemistry, mathematics, molecular genetics, physiology and behavioral ecology. His research will take advantage of well-understood developmental and mathematical mechanisms of feather structure and pigmentation to explore how diversity in these mechanisms can lead to evolution of color patterns. Badyaev will study the interaction between development and evolution of color at many levels – from pigment molecules to complex behavioral displays.

"I am proud to have nominated Alex Badyaev for the 2005 Packard Fellowship for Science and Engineering, and am pleased that he has been recognized for his innovative work," said UA President Peter Likins. "He is one of the many professors here whose research is helping UA grow in national and international prominence. Alex's work helps further our understanding of the interplay of developmental and evolutionary biology."

The 2005 Packard Fellows were nominated by presidents of 50 universities that participate in the program. The 100 nominations were reviewed by the Fellowship Advisory Panel, a group of nationally recognized scientists, which then recommended 16 fellows for approval by the Packard Foundation Board of Trustees. Badyaev is the sixth UA faculty member to be awarded a Packard Fellowship.

Joaquin Ruiz, dean of UA's College of Science, said, "I am pleased that the Packard Foundation has recognized Alex's creative, interdisciplinary research. Alex is one of the many researchers at UA whose multidisciplinary approach to research provides new insight into fundamental questions."

The David and Lucile Packard Foundation is a private family foundation created in 1964 by David Packard (1912–1996), cofounder of the Hewlett-Packard Company, and Lucile Salter Packard (1914–1987).