2019 AOS William Brewster Memorial Award Winners: Helen James & Craig Benkman

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 Elliot Coues Award.

The William Brewster Memorial Award goes to the author or coauthors of an exceptional body of work on birds of the Western Hemisphere. Established in 1921, the award consists of a medal and an honorarium and is in honor of William Brewster, one of the founding members of the American Ornithologists’ Union. For the first time this year, AOS is awarding two separate Brewster Awards, one to Dr. Helen James and one to Dr. Craig Benkman.

Smithsonian Natural History Museum, Feather Indentification Lab and Collection PrepHelen is the Curator of Birds at the Smithsonian’s U.S. National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) in Washington, D.C.  Her paleontological research on extinct and extant Hawaiian avifauna, carried out with colleagues from numerous fields, has produced one of the most detailed bodies of work to date on avian evolutionary processes in island systems. In her quest to unlock the secrets of the rise and fall of Hawaiian avifauna, Helen has used techniques that include traditional morphological analyses, stable isotopes, molecular genetics, and more. Her integrative approach has produced more than 80 cited scientific publications and more than 4000 citations of her work.

Helen began her science career as a 16-year-old student in anthropology at the University of Arkansas, followed by her doctorate (D. Phil.) in Zoology at Oxford University. In addition to being recognized for her research on Hawaiian birds, Dr. James is known as an accomplished avian anatomist, functional morphologist, paleontologist and systematist. Currently, she curates over 600,000 bird specimens and 75,000 avian fossils at NMNH and serves on the faculty at the University of Maryland. Helen was selected as an AOS Fellow in 2005. Helen is also part of the first parent–offspring pair to receive senior professional awards from AOS; her mother, Frances James, received the Elliott Coues Award in 1992 and the Loye and Alden Miller Research Award in 2009.

Craig with Cassia CrossbillDr. Craig W. Benkman is the Robert B. Berry Distinguished Chair in Ecology at the University of Wyoming, is being recognized for his work on selection and adaptive radiation in crossbills, including coevolution between crossbills and lodgepole pine, the influence of fire and increasing climate variability on this relationship, and climatic limits of the current and future distributions of crossbills. In recent years, his research has focused on how interactions between crossbills and conifers influence crossbill diversification, as well as how and why reproductive isolation evolves between diverging lineages of crossbills. In 1996, Craig discovered the Cassia Crossbill in Idaho while on his way to an AOU/COS meeting. Subsequent research provided evidence that the population was reproductively isolated from the Red Crossbill, and it was formally recognized as a distinct species in the AOS Checklist of North and Middle American Birds in 2017.

Craig’s interest in crossbills dates back to his Ph.D., which he completed at State University of New York at Albany, writing his dissertation on the foraging ecology of crossbills in eastern North America. Before joining the University of Wyoming, he was on the faculty at New Mexico State University. He has authored or co-authored 100 scientific publications, and his work has been covered in popular media outlets including Wired and High Country News. He was selected as an AOS Fellow in 2002.

In recognition of their meritorious bodies of research on birds over long and distinguished careers, AOS is pleased to award Helen James and Craig Benkman the 2019 Brewster Awards.