2020 Katma Award Winners: Mikus Abolins-Abols & Mark Hauber

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

The American Ornithological Society’s Katma Award is intended to encourage the formulation of new ideas that could challenge long-held views and change the course of thinking about the biology of birds. This award, proposed and sponsored by Dr. Robert W. Storer, is to be given to the author(s) of an outstanding paper related to ornithology, published in any journal, that offers unconventional ideas or innovative approaches backed by a well-reasoned argument. The 2020 Katma Award is being presented to Dr. Mikus Abolins-Abols of the University of Louisville and Dr. Mark E. Hauber of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for their paper “Host defences against avian brood parasitism: an endocrine perspective,” which appeared in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B in 2018.

While serving as some of the best examples of coevolutionary arms races among vertebrates, avian brood parasite–host relations have both fascinated and perplexed ornithologists and evolutionary biologists for decades. Parasites’ adaptations to exploit hosts have been particularly well studied, but our understanding of why hosts employ some defenses but not others against parasitism has lagged behind. Why do some hosts exhibit behaviors that reduce the probability of being parasitized in the first place, while others have evolved defenses to minimize effects of parasitism at the egg or nestling stage? And why does no one host seem to employ all possible defenses? Abolins-Abols and Hauber argue that progress in answering these questions will come through a fresh perspective provided by an endocrinological approach that identifies the proximate mechanisms underlying host behavior. They outline a number of testable hypotheses based on hormonal mechanisms that influence host aggression toward predators and other intruders and may therefore function in mediating responses to parasite females (“front-line defenses”) or parasite eggs and nestlings (“egg-” and “nestling-stage defenses”). Field studies of the endocrinology of avian reproduction have made major advances during the past half century, but much remains to be learned about the endocrine mediation of anti-parasitic host defenses. These are significant challenges in and of themselves, but Abolins-Abols and Hauber argue convincingly that progress in ferreting out how and why host species respond to brood parasites in such varied ways will most likely come from incorporating proven field endocrine methods into novel studies of host responses. Their perspective piece provides a starting road map for those choosing to travel down that path.

A full explanation of the Katma Award, which consists of a $2500 prize and a certificate, was published in The Condor in 2003. In recognition of their unique contribution to the study of avian brood parasitism, the American Ornithological Society is pleased to present this year’s award to Mikus Abolins-Abols and Mark E. Hauber.

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