2020 Coues Award Winner: Thomas Smith

Over the course of this spring and summer, we’re highlighting all of the previously announced recipients of this year’s AOS awards on the blog. This week, the 2020 Elliott Coues Award.

The Elliott Coues Award recognizes outstanding and innovative contributions to ornithological research, regardless of the geographic location of the work. This award was established in honor of Elliott Coues, a pioneering ornithologist of the western United States and a founding member of the AOU. The award consists of the Elliott Coues Medal and an honorarium. In 2020, AOS is presenting two individual Elliott Coues Awards, one to André Dhondt and one to Thomas Smith.

Dr. Smith is a Professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability at the University of California at Los Angeles. He is currently a leader for several conservation initiatives for tropical biodiversity including the Center for Tropical Research, Conservation Action Research Network, and the Congo Basin Institute. Dr. Smith received his Ph.D. from the University of California at Berkeley under the direction of Frank Pitelka and has held faculty positions at San Francisco State University and the University of California at Davis before moving to his current position. He is a Fellow of AOS and the California Academy of Science. Dr. Smith has worked in Africa and South America for over 35 years, with a focus on understanding how diversity is generated and maintained in tropical rainforests. His dissertation addressed the remarkable bill polymorphism in Black-billed Seedcrackers, and he has continued to work on this species using genomic tools. Dr. Smith has had a special interest in understanding the role of ecotones and environmental gradients in speciation. He has been an innovator in using molecular tools, population genetics, and, more recently, genomics and remote sensing in the study of zoonotic diseases and migratory connectivity. His most-cited works includes articles and reviews on resource polymorphisms in vertebrates and studies of diversification in the tropics that appeared in Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics, Nature, Science, Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, and Trends in Ecology and Evolution. Dr. Smith has been heavily involved with the development of programs and infrastructure for tropical research and conservation, with leadership roles in several international initiatives. His long-term contributions to student training include serving as a mentor for 27 postdocs and 34 graduate students who are now working with birds around the world.

In recognition of these contributions to ornithology, AOS is pleased to name Thomas Smith as a recipient of a 2020 Elliott Coues Award.

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