2021 Elliott Coues Award Winner: Peter Arcese

Over the coming weeks, we will continue to feature profiles of the previously announced winners of this year’s AOS awards in a series of posts on Wing Beat.


The AOS Elliott Coues Award recognizes outstanding and innovative contributions to ornithological research, with no limitation with respect to geographic area, sub-discipline(s) of ornithology, or the time course over which the work was done. It consists of a medal and an honorarium and is named in honor of Elliott Coues, a pioneering ornithologist of the western U.S. and founding member of the AOU. One of this year’s two awardees is Dr. Peter Arcese.

Dr. Peter Arcese is Professor and the Forest Renewal BC Chair in Conservation Biology in the Department of Forest and Conservation Sciences at the University of British Columbia. Dr. Arcese’s research program emphasizes comparative and experimental tests of population demographic, genetic, and conservation theory using long-term studies of bird populations of the Pacific Coast of North America, East and West Africa, and the Northern Andes of South America. 

Since the beginning of his career in 1981, Dr. Arcese has been involved in the ground-breaking research of his late mentor Jamie Smith’s study of island-nesting Song and Fox Sparrows. His most recent work on life history evolution in response to climate and community change documents a transition from migratory to residential life history in Fox Sparrows, and the co-existence of individuals expressing ‘fast and slow’ life-history strategies within a single Song Sparrow population. Arcese’s body of research on this topic also includes the first demonstration of the effects of ‘host farming’ by Brown-headed Cowbirds on host fitness, population dynamics, and regional population growth. Collectively this research has been featured in PNAS, Proceedings of the Royal Society B, Ecology, The Journal of Applied Ecology, Auk, Condor, Oecologia, and Ibis

Now considered the longest-running social and genetic pedigrees collected for any free-living species, Dr. Arcese’s study of Song Sparrows on Mandarte Island, British Columbia, Canada, has been used by more than 100 researchers worldwide to understand micro-evolutionary processes affecting individual fitness, inbreeding depression, population demography, and life history evolution. These data continue to provide the most precise and extensive estimates of heritable variation in life history and genetic correlations among the sexes and traits, and inbreeding effects on individual and population fitness. This research has been featured in Nature, The American Naturalist, Evolution, Heredity, The Journal of Evolutionary Biology, Proceedings of the Royal Society B, Functional Ecology, The Journal of Animal Ecology, Biology Letters, and others. 

Dr. Arcese has also integrated long-term observations, historical records, and contemporary field studies to describe how climate and land use change have influenced avian populations and used this understanding to advise agencies and NGOs on conservation strategies, especially as related to highly endangered old forest and maritime meadow communities in Canada. His synthetic analyses have informed restoration strategies, changed harvest policies for deer and introduced geese, and guided conservation on public and private land. This body of work is published in journals such as Global Change Biology, Ecology, Diversity and Distributions, Biological Conservation, Conservation Biology, Oikos, Ecoscience, Journal of Applied Ecology, Condor, PeerJ, and Environmental Science & Technology. Dr. Arcese’s findings have led to important changes in policy and restoration for the Gulf and San Juan Islands; adjustments to hunting seasons, bag limits, and egg-addling programs by Parks Canada to support efforts restore native plant communities; and a coast-wide population viability analysis and long-term radar monitoring program for the Canadian population of Marbled Murrelets. 

Dr. Arcese’s decision-support tools and outputs have been used to guide conservation of the Pacific Northwest, the Northern Andes, and the Western Hemisphere. He pioneered the development of rigorous and sophisticated methodological approaches to identify portfolios of sites and, in some cases, generalizable decision rules that will most efficiently achieve specific conservation targets. His published research in this area has been featured in Conservation Letters, PLoS One, Ecography, Oecologia, Biological Conservation, Ecoscience, and the International Journal of Remote Sensing.

Dr. Arcese is a highly cited scientist, with three edited books, 15 edited chapters, and more than 160 peer-reviewed papers to his name. His most recent book chapter, focusing on avian population structure, was included in the textbook, Ornithology: Foundation, Analysis, and Application (2018, Johns Hopkins Press). Dr. Arcese has a longstanding commitment to to outreach and service, having served as a Councilor of the American Ornithologists’ Union, a Chair of the Board of the Nature Trust of British Columbia, a federally-appointed member of the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, an editor of the Journal of Avian Biology, and Fellow of AOS. He has mentored 54 master’s, doctoral, and postdoctoral students, and co-authored papers with 15 undergraduates at three universities.

In recognition of his many contributions to ornithology, AOS is pleased to name AOS Fellow Dr. Peter Arcese as a 2021 recipient of the AOS Elliott Coues Award.

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