Paul Ehrlich receives Ramon Margalef Award for lifetime achievements in ecology

Paul Ehrlich

Prof. Paul Ehrlich first became well known in 1968 for his book The Population Bomb."

Paul Ehrlich, Stanford professor of population studies, is the 2009 recipient of the Ramon Margalef Award in Ecology and Environmental Sciences, a prize that honors achievements over a lifetime.

“Ehrlich is one of the most influential ecologists of our age,” said Harold Mooney, Stanford professor of biology and 2007 Margalef Award recipient. “He’s done an enormous amount of path-breaking work and continues to lead in addressing the major issues of our time.”

The government of Catalonia established the award of 100,000 euros (about $142,000) in 2004 after the death of Ramon Margalef, a founding father of modern ecology. The purpose of the annual award is to honor distinguished ecologists from around the world.

“Margalef was a pioneering ecologist who was one of the first to bring an ecosystem approach to the field. He fostered a whole army of young scientists who followed his ways and made Catalonia a center for much ecological work in Europe,” Mooney said.

Ehrlich said he was pleased to receive an award honoring Margalef. He was a great admirer of the Catalan scientist’s research, and remembers translating Margalef’s classic ecology text 20 years ago when he was learning Spanish to prepare for fieldwork in Latin America.

“This is an especially nice honor for Paul, since world leaders are increasingly recognizing that the population-environment warnings of the 1960s and 1970s were on the right track,” Gretchen Daily, a professor of biology at Stanford, wrote in an email.

Ehrlich received his PhD from the University of Kansas in 1957. At Stanford he rose through the ranks from assistant professor of biology in 1959 to professor in 1966, and was named the Bing Professor of Population Studies in 1977. Ehrlich has pursued long-term studies of the structure, dynamics and genetics of natural butterfly populations. He is president of Stanford’s Center for Conservation Biology, which he established in 1984.

He also has been a pioneer in alerting the public to the problems of overpopulation and in raising issues of population, resources and the environment as matters of public policy. Ehrlich first became well known in 1968 for his book The Population Bomb. His current project, the Millennium Assessment of Human Behavior, is about understanding what it takes for people to change their behavior in response to environmental issues that the scientific community has clearly portrayed as problematic.

“What we’re trying to do is start a worldwide discussion of what people are for, what people want, and how we can solve the problems that humanity is facing in a world that is poorly structured to do so. It’s not for scientists to dictate to people what they should do, but to bring the scientific community together with the general public,” Ehrlich said.

Ehrlich will receive the award in Barcelona on Nov. 5. Past prizes have included a handmade kaleidoscope and a trophy sculpted in silver, copper and wood.

Christine Blackman is a science-writing intern at the Stanford News Service.