The American Ornithological Society (AOS) announces its 2024 award winners for achievements in ornithological research by early-career professionals

The American Ornithological Society (AOS) annually bestows research awards honoring early-career researchers for their ornithological research. This year’s early-career research awardees represent outstanding contributions to the scientific study and conservation of birds. The 2024 recipients will accept their awards at the 2024 AOS annual meeting (AOS 2024) this October in Estes Park, Colorado.

The AOS’s James G. Cooper Early Professional Award and the Ned K. Johnson Early Investigator Award are presented annually to recognize outstanding and promising work by researchers early in their careers. Our 2024 James G. Cooper Award winners are Drs. Sheela P. Turbek and Jessie L. Williamson. This year, the AOS awarded the Ned K. Johnson Award to Dr. Gavin M. Jones.

“I am proud and excited to honor the contributions of these three AOS members so early in their careers,” AOS President Colleen Handel remarks. “Their exceptional research embodies the creativity, interdisciplinary thinking, and dedication that propel our understanding and conservation of birds. Such work is critically important, especially given the rapid and extreme environmental changes that are now challenging our natural systems and wildlife populations across the globe,” Handel says.

“Congratulations to these three ornithological superstars!” adds AOS Executive Director and CEO Judith Scarl. “We are so glad to celebrate Drs. Turbek, Williamson, and Jones with these well-deserved awards.”

James G. Cooper Early Professional Award

Sheela P. Turbek, Ph.D. in front of brick wall.
Sheela P. Turbek, Ph.D.

Sheela P. Turbek, Ph.D., Research Scientist, Bird Genoscape Project at Colorado State University

Sheela P. Turbek, Ph.D., is a research scientist working with the Bird Genoscape Project at Colorado State University. Her research lies at the interface of ecology, evolution, behavior, and conservation and leverages genomic tools to study the mechanisms that generate and maintain species diversity in the face of anthropogenic change. Dr. Turbek obtained her Ph.D. in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from the University of Colorado Boulder, where she worked with Dr. Scott Taylor to study the role of gene flow and assortative mating in the diversification of the southern capuchino seedeaters, a rapid avian radiation in South America. After receiving her Ph.D., she worked as a National Science Foundation postdoctoral fellow at Colorado State University, where she studied how migratory birds are adapting to environmental change. Dr. Turbek collaborates extensively with researchers at government agencies, non-profit organizations, and academic institutions across the Western Hemisphere to ensure that her scientific findings reach the hands of conservation decision makers. In addition, she is active in community outreach initiatives aimed at broadening participation in the sciences and building a more just and equitable society. Dr. Turbek has received several presentation and research awards from the AOS, including the Mark E. Hauber Presentation Award (2020), an AOS Student Research Award (2018), and a Cooper Ornithological Society Joseph Grinnell Award (2016). Her work has been featured in a variety of outlets, including The Washington Post, The Economist, Science, and Forbes. Dr. Turbek will deliver a plenary address titled “Lessons on the origin and persistence of avian biodiversity in a changing world” at the AOS 2024 meeting in Estes Park, Colorado, in October.

Follow Dr. Turbek’s research

Jessie L. Williamson, Ph.D.
Photo by Zoe Rossman

Jessie L. Williamson, Ph.D., National Science Foundation (NSF) Postdoctoral Fellow and Rose Fellow, Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Museum of Vertebrates, and Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Cornell University

Jessie Williamson, Ph.D., is an NSF Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Biology and Rose Fellow at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Museum of Vertebrates, and in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Cornell University. She is also a Research Associate at the Museum of Southwestern Biology. She received her Ph.D. in 2022 and M.S. in 2019 from the University of New Mexico, and her B.A. in 2013 from Middlebury College. Dr. Williamson studies how elevation shapes behavior, physiology, and genomic change in birds using diverse approaches—field experiments, migration tracking, genomics, transcriptomics, and museum specimens. Her work focuses on birds that make extreme seasonal shifts in elevation during migration, including giant hummingbirds; the roles of plasticity and adaptation in organismal performance across elevations; and how interacting abiotic forces generate spatial patterns of biodiversity. Dr. Williamson works closely with collaborators in Peru and Chile to train students, offer workshops, and conduct museum outreach. She is also a freelance writer and photographer whose work has appeared in Outside Magazine and The Washington Post. Williamson previously received an AOS Council Student Presentation Award (2022), an AOS Alexander Wetmore Research Grant (2020), an AOS Diversity & Inclusion Travel Award (2022), and was a finalist for the AOS Wesley Lanyon Award (2021). In August 2025, Dr. Williamson will join the University of Wyoming as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Zoology and Physiology. Dr. Williamson will deliver a plenary address titled “Migration, physiology, and speciation at elevational extremes” at the AOS 2024 meeting in Estes Park, Colorado, in October.

Follow Dr. Williamson’s research.

Ned K. Johnson Early Investigator Award

Gavin M. Jones, Ph.D.
Gavin M. Jones, Ph.D.

Gavin M. Jones, Ph.D., Research Ecologist, USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station

Gavin M. Jones, Ph.D., (he/him) has been a research ecologist with the USDA Forest Service’s Rocky Mountain Research Station since 2020. He completed his B.S. in Zoology and Conservation Biology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and his M.S. and Ph.D. in Wildlife Ecology — also from the University of Wisconsin-Madison — working with Dr. Zach Peery on the ecology and conservation of Spotted Owls in California. After receiving his Ph.D. in 2019, he did postdoctoral research in the Department of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation at the University of Florida under the supervision of Dr. Rob Fletcher working on biodiversity responses to woody bioenergy production in the southeastern U.S. 

Dr. Jones’ current research interests are primarily in forest bird responses to fire, forest bird responses to fire risk-reduction activities (e.g., fuels reduction and forest restoration), and balancing these two forms of forest disturbances to improve conservation outcomes for birds and other wildlife. He is an associate editor for the journals Fire Ecology and Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment. In 2021, Dr. Jones won the Early Career Scientist Award from the USDA Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station for his work on bird ecology and conservation in fire-prone forests. Dr. Jones’ research has appeared in top journals including Conservation Biology, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and Trends in Ecology and Evolution, and his work has been covered by The Washington Post, Science magazine, and the popular science podcast Ologies with Alie Ward. He served on the AOS Social Communications Policy Committee in 2020–2021, and won the AOS Robert B. Berry Award (2018). Dr. Jones will deliver a plenary address titled “Burning issues: bird ecology, evolution, and conservation in the Pyrocene” at the AOS 2024 meeting in Estes Park, Colorado, in October.

Follow Dr. Jones’ research.

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