A Florida State University biologist has been named a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, a lifetime distinction that honors contributions to both science and technology.
Professor of Biological Science Brian Inouye will be inducted to the prestigious society this year alongside 563 scientists, engineers, and innovators spanning 24 scientific disciplines. Inouye, who earned his master’s and doctoral degrees from Duke University, is being honored for his contributions to the field of evolutionary ecology, specifically for his work on how variation among individual plants and insects affects overall population dynamics and species interactions. Previously, he has been named a Fulbright Scholar to Sweden.
“When I heard that I had been elected a fellow, I got the same warm feeling that I get when a stranger at a science conference approaches me and says they appreciate my work, but on a larger scale,” Inouye said. “With the nature of our work, scientists spend a lot of time checking for potential problems, so it’s really nice to have this positive feedback from colleagues.”
The AAAS, formed in 1848, was the first permanent organization established to promote the development of science and engineering at a national level and represent the interests of all its disciplines. The AAAS seeks to advance science, engineering, and innovation throughout the world.
“AAAS is proud to bestow the honor of AAAS Fellow to some of today’s brightest minds who are integral to forging our path into the future,” said Sudip Parikh, AAAS chief executive officer and executive publisher of the Science family of journals. “We celebrate these distinguished individuals for their invaluable contributions to the scientific enterprise.”
Inouye, who came to FSU in 2001 in pursuit of an excellent and interactive graduate group in ecology and evolution, teaches both undergraduate and graduate students in courses such as ecology and experimental biology. One of his current research ventures focuses on how species respond to climate, such as when plants flower or when animals hibernate, migrate, have pups, or carry out other activities. Another investigates why certain plants are consumed more by herbivorous insects than are others and why damage from herbivores tends to be distributed unevenly among plants.
“Considering sources of variation is important to understand how populations change throughout time, but many previous studies have ignored this variation. In the same way that ‘super-spreaders’ can have a huge effect on local disease outbreaks, there may be hotspots for insects and plants that affect whether we see population booms or crashes across a larger area,” Inouye said.
Working with plants and insects is a perfect scale to study ecology, he said, because they can be seen and held, and changes happen quickly enough that researchers can search for patterns over months or years.
“Even so, it’s hard to predict future values and uses of basic scientific research. My research on the timing of flowering for certain plant species draws on data from the 1970s, which are now a valuable resource for studying how species respond to variation in climate change,” Inouye said.
While scientists have made huge strides in understanding natural patterns by focusing on how an average individual of a species affects an average individual of another species, no individual is ever exactly average. There are differences among genotypes, among locations, and in the weather from year-to-year, so taking variation into account is essential in considering ecological changes on both small and large scales.
By combining modeling and mathematical analysis with long-term data collection, Inouye brings a dynamic perspective to the study of species diversity. This data collection spans decades and across generations, as he has continued research begun by his father in Rocky Mountain bumble bee and flower communities.
“Brian has made fundamental contributions to our understanding of plant and animal interactions and demographic changes in the wild. His role in the community of researchers has long been recognized, as he has been an editor for the journals Ecology and Ecological Monograph, and he is the go-to-guy for help in experimental design and analysis for many in the department, across all our disciplines,” said Tom Houpt, Department of Biological Science chair.
The tradition of fellows stretches back to 1874, and Inouye joins a cohort of talented scientists whose ranks have been held by fellows such as Thomas Edison, W.E.B DuBois, Maria Mitchell, Steven Chu, Ellen Ochoa and Irwin M. Jacobs.
This year’s elected fellows will receive an official certificate and a gold and blue rosette pin to commemorate their election and will be celebrated later this year during an in-person gathering when it is feasible from a public health and safety perspective. The new class will also be featured in the AAAS News & Notes section of the journal Science.