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Professor John McNamara awarded Sewall Wright Award

John McNamara

11 April 2018

Emeritus Professor of Mathematics and Biology, John McNamara has been awarded the highly prestigious Sewall Wright Award by the American Society of Naturalists, the oldest scientific society dedicated to the study of ecology, evolution, and behaviour.

Established in 1991, The Sewall Wright Award is presented annually and honours a senior but still active investigator who continues to make fundamental contributions to the Society’s goals. 

Professor McNamara is a mathematical biologist, whose work has contributed significantly to the conceptual unification of three biological fields; behaviour, ecology and evolution. He has developed a general theoretical framework to analyse how individual actions contribute to lifetime reproductive success. This framework provides a rigorously justified common currency for decision-making, while taking into account factors such as physiological changes during an animal’s lifetime. His approach provides a natural way of building more holistic and realistic models of behaviour that capture the essential biology of the organism and consider differences between individuals. This framework allows one to predict and understand how evolved behaviour depends on state and time.

Professor McNamara’s paper “The common currency of behavioural decisions”, published in the American Naturalist in 1986, changed the field of behavioural ecology and evolution. Prior to this landmark paper, foraging behaviour was mostly analysed from a perspective of energy maximisation. Professor McNamara established how energy gain, predation risk and other activities can be combined into a common currency that encapsulates the selection pressures acting on decision making. This publication introduced state-dependent dynamic models into evolutionary ecology and showed how stochastic dynamic programming can be used to find optimal (evolutionary stable) strategies.

On receiving the Sewell Wright Award Professor McNamara, said: “It is a great honour to be named as this year’s recipient of the Sewall Wright Award, and extremely gratifying to see that theory and modelling can have an impact and be appreciated.”

Read more on Professor McNamara’s award by visiting the American Society of Naturalists website.

Further information

The American Society of Naturalists is the oldest scientific society dedicated to the study of ecology, evolution, and behaviour. The goal of the society is to advance and to diffuse knowledge of organic evolution and other broad biological principles in order to enhance the conceptual unification of the biological sciences.

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