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BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award in Ecology and Conservation Biology: Daniel Janzen

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February 14, 2012, Volume 58, No. 22

Dr. Daniel Janzen of the University of Pennsylvania's department of biology is the recipient of the 2011 BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award in the Ecology and Conservation Biology category. Dr. Janzen was singled out for his contributions to the conservation and scientific understanding of tropical ecosystems. The BBVA Foundation created their Frontiers of Knowledge Awards to recognize and encourage world-class research contributions of broad impact for their originality and theoretical significance.

Dr. Janzen is the Thomas G. and Louise E. DiMaura Term Chair and professor of biology at Penn. The BBVA Foundation's award announcement describes him as "a supreme example of the complete ecological scientist" who has "shaped tropical ecology as we know it today."

Dr. Janzen's work has focused on caterpillars, including the plants they eat and the parasites that eat them. For 40 years, he has worked in Costa Rica, where he has collaborated with others to document and sequence a portion of the DNA of roughly 12,000 species. Dr. Janzen has involved local people in this work, training many to identify local species and participate in a broad inventory of the area's biodiversity.

Working with his wife, biologist Dr. Winnie Hallwachs, Dr. Janzen helped acquire and restore a degraded forest in Costa Rica creating the 163,000-hectare Área de Conservación Guanacaste (ACG), a tropical-forest reserve. The ACG is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, noted for incorporating community outreach and restoration ecology practices.

The BBVA Foundation award carries a prize of 400,000 euros (approximately $530,000), money that Dr. Janzen plans to invest back into his work in Costa Rica.

"It will allow me to finance multiple 'small' research projects in taxonomy, ecology and biodiversity development that other members of the team have not been able to finance for themselves," Dr. Janzen said.

"This recognition is richly deserved," said Dr. Rebecca Bushnell, dean of Penn's School of Arts and Sciences. "As an inspiration to generations of students, a pioneering scientist, and a leading conservationist, Dan exemplifies the best of Penn's tradition of applying knowledge in the solution of pressing issues. He is truly one of the School's great treasures."

With the Frontiers of Knowledge Award, Dr. Janzen joins the ranks of fellow recipients Thomas Lovejoy, William Laurance, Peter Reich and Edward O. Wilson. Dr. Janzen is also the recipient of numerous other awards, including Penn's Ira Abrams Award for Distinguished Teaching, the Joseph Leidy Medal, the Crafoord Prize from the Swedish Royal Academy of Sciences, the Kyoto Prize and a MacArthur "Genius" Fellowship.

"Dan has always been innovative in his thinking, hands-on in his work and global in his reach," said Dr. Greg Guild, chair of Penn's biology department. "From dung beetles to caterpillars to DNA barcoding, he is always moving ahead —and bringing the rest of us with him."

The award, Dr. Janzen said, "helps me and Winnie to feel that at least some part of the greater community of scientists and users of biodiversity do appreciate what we are trying to do and have been trying to do since 1985."

To see a collection of Dr. Janzen's photographs of tropical caterpillars visit www.flickr.com/photos/universityofpennsylvania/sets/72157624302497094/

Almanac - February 14, 2012, Volume 58, No. 22