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York student wins prestigious research award

Posted on 15 April 2016

A University of York postgraduate has won The American Naturalist 2016 Student Paper Award for his research into insect evolution.

James RainfordJames Rainford

James Rainford, a PhD student in the Department of Biology, had his paper selected from over 60 eligible articles assessed for originality and impact.

His paper, Diet Evolution and Clade Richness in Hexapoda: a Phylogenetic Study of Higher Taxa, revealed that, despite popular scientific belief, there is not a simple link between insect diet and species diversity.

James Rainford said: “One of the key goals of evolutionary biology is the understanding of the origin of diversity within the natural world and how historical processes have shaped the history of life. Insects, comprising one of the largest and best studied terrestrial radiations, represent a key case study in our understanding of species richness.

“This work builds on classical ideas regarding the drivers of insect richness, including their relationship with flowering plants, and extends these concepts to consider more generally the role played by diet in the diversification of the group. Such insights do not stand alone, and I would like to take this opportunity to thank my co-authors and all the members of the lab-groups involved in producing this and the associated wider body of work.

“I am thrilled to have received recognition from The American Naturalist and would like to extend my thanks to the judging panel and editorial board. My hope is that, by highlighting the broader issues surrounding diet within insects, this work may serve to promote a wider discussion of diversification within the group and the processes responsible for shaping their astonishing species richness.”

Judith L. Bronstein, Editor-in-Chief of The American Naturalist, said: “In his graduate work, James Rainford has comprehensively challenged what we thought we knew. His re-examination of insect clade richness in relation to diet is bold, ambitious, and important.

“The winning paper synthesizes concepts across macroevolution, diversification, coevolution, specialization, dietary evolution, and basic insect ecology. Not all readers will accept the authors' conclusions, but we can all agree that this is an exceptionally fine example of work that fits TheAmerican Naturalist ideal of challenging how we think.”

The award consists of a $500 prize from the American Society of Naturalists, a one-year free membership in the Society, and $100 in free books from University of Chicago Press. The award will also be announced in The American Naturalist, as well as at the Society for the Study of Evolution meetings in Austin, Texas this summer.

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