News Release

Biologist Marlene Zuk receives international award for discoveries on behavior and diversity

Biologist Marlene Zuk in a sunny wooded area
Professor Marlene Zuk

Marlene Zuk, a professor in the University of Minnesota College of Biological Sciences, was recently recognized by the BBVA Foundation for outstanding contributions to the field of behavioral and evolutionary ecology. The BBVA Foundation’s annual Frontiers of Knowledge Award recognizes world-class researchers who have made field-shaping discoveries in a broad array of disciplines of scientific knowledge, technology, humanities and artistic creation.

“Dr. Zuk’s work has shaped how we understand the role of behavioral interactions in explaining biological diversity. The impact she has had as a scientist cannot be overstated and this award — only the most recent of many such accolades — is incredibly well deserved,” said David Greenstein, interim dean of the College of Biological Sciences.

Zuk is a prominent figure in the fields of ecology, evolutionary biology and animal behavior. In addition to over 17,500 citations of her work, she is a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Throughout her career, Zuk has also been a strong advocate for advancing women’s equity in science. 

Over the last four decades, Zuk's research has been foundational for a general understanding of the role of behavioral interactions in explaining biological diversity. Her work addresses how interactions — between males and females or parasites and their hosts — drive the spread of novel traits, the elaboration of sexual ornaments (decorative traits used in mate selection, such as the tail feathers of a peacock) and evolutionary diversification more broadly. The 1982 Hamilton-Zuk Hypothesis, now standard textbook material, argued for the importance of coevolutionary interactions between hosts and parasites in driving the elaboration and diversification of sexual ornaments.

Zuk has also had a significant impact on general understanding of biological diversity through public talks and popular science books, including her most recent publication Dancing Cockatoos and the Dead Man Test, which explores how behavior evolves and why it matters. 

Media Contacts

Christopher Kelly

University Public Relations

Stephanie Xenos

College of Biological Sciences, Twin Cities