2019 Katma Award Winners: Benjamin Winger, Giorgia Auteri, Teresa Pegan, & Brian Weeks

From left, Brian Weeks, Benjamin Winger, Giorgia Auteri, and Teresa Pegan.

In the lead-up to our annual meeting in Anchorage, we’ll be highlighting the winners of this year’s AOS awards on the blog. This week, the 2019 Katma Award.

The American Ornithological Society’s Katma Award is intended to encourage the formulation of new ideas that could challenge long-held accepted views and possibly 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 and published in any journal that offers unconventional ideas or innovative approaches, backed by a well-reasoned argument.

The American Ornithological Society is pleased to present the 2018 Katma Award to Benjamin M. Winger, Giorgia G. Auteri, Teresa M. Pegan, and Brian C. Weeks of the University of Michigan Museum of Zoology and Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology for their paper “A long winter for the Red Queen: rethinking the evolution of seasonal migration,” which appeared in Biological Reviews in 2018.

Winger and his colleagues provide a cogent review of existing theories for the evolution of migration, but unlike previous authors, they identify migration as just one mechanism that organisms have evolved for dealing with seasonally inhospitable conditions; alternative strategies found in non-avian species include diapause and hibernation, and non-migratory birds possess a variety of other life history strategies for dealing with seasonal conditions as well. The capacity for flight clearly provided birds with the option of geographic escape, but Winger and his coauthors argue that if viewed as only one of several alternative strategies for winter escape, the fundamental connection between all “escape strategies” is to survive and breed in the same place following the return of favorable conditions. Benefits of breeding site fidelity are well documented, and given such benefits, the evolution of migration can be seen as an escape strategy that allows a bird to return to a former breeding location to draw on those reproductive benefits. Without such benefits, there is no selection to remain site faithful, and thus the authors see migration as a means by which organisms travel long distances to ultimately stay in the same place, just as hibernation allows an animal to emerge in spring to breed again in the same place. The authors’ perspective is “agnostic” regarding the geographic origins of migratory behavior (southern home or northern home), is strongly compatible with the importance of studying migratory connectedness between breeding and nonbreeding areas of seasonal residency, and can accommodate idiosyncratic migratory behaviors because migration is viewed as a highly labile trait, but one that comes with the baggage of the species history. Winger et al.’s contribution is an exciting new perspective on migration that justifies it acknowledgment as the 2019 Katma Award winner.

The Katma Award is given only when it is merited, no more than once a year. The award consists of approximately $2,500 plus a certificate and is presented at the annual meeting of the American Ornithological Society. A full explanation of the Katma Award was published in The Condor in 2003.